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Agile in Advertising: Building Client Trust with Fewer Surprises

Agile in advertising: building client trust with fewer surprises

By Lizz Kannenberg / September 5, 2018

When I was in the ad world, I lived for the big reveal.

Agency people thrive off that moment when we finally get to show our client the ideas over which we’ve been passionately laboring for days, weeks, even months at a time.

And for most agencies still, the theatrics of that moment come from a certain sense of distance and suspense. Meaning some time before that day, you and your client agreed upon a project brief, timeline, budget and set of deliverables. But since then you’ve been off on your own, autonomously creating. Now it’s time to reunite and deliver the goods.

But instead of being the end of the process, that meeting is often just the beginning of a long, arduous road full of feedback, strategy pivots, budget revisions and probably more than a few passive aggressive emails.

Because the truth is, clients don’t like surprises. At least the kind of surprises they get from agencies: off-brief and over-budget ideas, scope changes, unmet expectations, etc.

So why do we continue to operate within the rigid confines of traditional project management that inherently and inevitably lead to these very (unwelcome) surprises? Because we’re unwilling to make our clients true partners in our creative process and accordingly, they feel all of the anxiety that comes with knowing they are paying for hours and hours of work that may or may not be relevant to their original ask.

Believe me, I know it’s hard as an agency team to put your egos in the backseat. But to build trust in our client relationships we need a process that fosters transparency, communication and collaboration. Enter: Agile.

Open communication…

Out of all the ways we can minimize the possibility of a client surprise, transparency feels like the most obvious. If you’re open with your client throughout the entire process, no decision, deliverable or deviation should ever come as a surprise.

You know that the development of a final deliverable needs to happen in stages, but does your client? In the Agile framework, clients are privy to the entire process of content and campaign creation. Not only is it easier to keep tabs on the progress of a project, but it also serves to educate them on all the time and effort that goes into a final deliverable. This way, if there’s a delay or change at any stage in the process, they know about it in real time and can see its immediate effect on the larger project budget and timeline.

And it’s not just the incremental setbacks clients have more insight into–but also the successes. Whereas the traditional waterfall approach to project management says, “Trust us, we’ll get it done,” Agile says, “See? We’re getting it done.” As the project proceeds, you have more opportunities to deliver on milestones along the way, celebrating those smaller wins together. It becomes more of a continual, consistent delivery system vs a final deliverable that not only builds trust, but also your perceived value.

…creates progress

Not only does Agile give both parties insight into the progress of a project, but it also gives clients more input. While the waterfall method is about request and deliver, Agile is about relationships–clients and agencies working more closely together at every stage, pivoting, revising and optimizing as they go along.

The first stage is getting them on board with the Agile methodology at the outset. Show them that Agile is about so much more than just your internal process and daily standups. True partnership means developing client needs together, not simply answering a brief and fulfilling asks.

This means getting comfortable with project plans that are no longer written in stone. Agile provides both your clients and your team the flexibility and transparency needed to adapt the asks (clients) and tasks (team) of a project as it develops.

So try this: Work together to create a project roadmap by agreeing on smaller, incremental milestones rather than a final deliverable. Then be sure to include your clients on your daily and weekly check-ins, as well as your sprint planning and retrospective meetings.

Of course you don’t want them to micromanage, but you’re going to get feedback and opinions no matter what. Wouldn’t you rather get them during the process so you can incorporate and pivot when necessary vs an eleventh-hour grenade that blows up all your hard work?

In my opinion, the work is better this way too.

Not only is it more efficient, but instead of retroactively forcing feedback into your fully-baked ideas, Agile allows you to cook it right in–resulting in deeper, richer and “heat-resistant” final deliverables.

Now, onward!

I’ve previously written about how social dismantled the traditional agency model, and how important it is for agencies to stay nimble and flexible in today’s new digital paradigm. But to me, this change in process is part of a larger conversation around relationships between agencies and their clients. And no relationship can survive without trust.

The Agile methodology provides the necessary level of transparency, communication and collaboration to create a true partnership–one where trust is built over time instead of simply asking for it at the beginning before it’s been earned.

Lizz Kannenberg

Lizz Kannenberg

is the Director of Content at Sprout Social. Kannenberg is a career strategist and creative lead for social content. She has developed and executed social content campaigns for CPG, automotive, alc/bev, government and lifestyle clients by creating credible, compelling conversations between brands and communities. Offline she can usually be found playing bass in an indie rock band or out exploring with her husband and young son.
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