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Many corporate marketing
and creative teams struggle with relationship and project-related communication
challenges. Often, everyone blames the project brief/initiation form. However,
if one digs deep enough, it becomes clear that the tool in and of itself is not
the problem. Rather, it’s the lack of attention and focus on relationship building
and communication between the requester and the creative team that’s the
Project initiation processes,
the foundation of which is a one-size-fits-all template, have a tendency to enable
a corporate version of the childhood game of telephone tag. However, the
corporate version of this game does not begin with face-to-face communication.
Instead, it begins with project-related information that is input into
pre-determined fixed fields based on the project requester’s own knowledge.
Requesters fill out these project initiation forms without understanding the
larger context and the end goal. They provide information that is only
meaningful to them and not to those who need to use or understand the
information. Compounding the problem, information is provided in writing
without much thoughtful consideration of the intended audience (the creative
team) and their more visual way of thinking.
motivation, perhaps subconscious, for this type of communication is to hide
stakeholders from one another and/or protect either the requester or user from
the project’s final outcome. Ultimately, it serves as a sort of CYA (cover your
ass) document. In corporate telephone tag, everyone retains ownership of their
own piece of the puzzle, but few people are enabled or even empowered to see or
own the bigger picture. If you simply flip the term “stakeholder” and use
“collaborator” instead, a whole new world of opportunities and solutions are
Based on the consulting I’ve
done for hundreds of marketing and creative teams across the United States and
Canada, defined communication strategies
have emerged as an effective means for alleviating this corporate version of
Generally the biggest component (or puzzle piece) missing in
evaluating how clients/requesters and the creative/design team communicate is
communication itself, and, specifically, communication at various interaction
levels. Face-to-face communication is often lacking or in the form of
inefficient, lengthy and tactically focused “turn-in” or “category” meetings.
The focus of these meetings, inevitably, is on the current priorities and not
on the bigger picture. Rarely are marketing and creative teams collaborating at
the planning stages. This is a recipe for disaster and the beginning of the
corporate telephone tag game.
An innovative approach
that is tremendously successful is the creation of a new role: “Relationship/Collaboration
Manager.” In a mid- to large-size team, this is often a separate stand-alone
role. However, in smaller teams, this role may be one of the many
responsibilities of the department leadership. The role or responsibility of
the Relationship/Collaboration Manager is much more focused on the bigger
picture and on the up-front planning, relationship and communication aspects of
the client-designer relationship. It is vastly different, in both reality and
perception, from the more traditional roles of a project or account manager.
Managers are experts on creative/design resources and advocates for the
company’s business priorities. They build
relationships and facilitate interactions between clients and internal and external creative resources. They also
advise on integrated creative solutions by balancing client objectives with
overarching business priorities. Most importantly, the
Relationship/Collaboration Manager attends and actively participates in yearly
or quarterly strategic marketing meetings with their clients to build
relationships and help plan initiatives. They work with creative operations to
set up and manage the overall relationship model for working with clients, from
project coordination through project close out, to ensure a consistent
experience for anyone seeking creative solutions.
This role is primarily
responsible for owning and nurturing most face-to-face strategic communication
opportunities, ensuring successful approaches to interpersonal communications,
meeting strategy, planning, and shaping many other aspects of client-designer
relationships. Laying the foundation, through up-front communication, will
ensure more fruitful projects and relationships.
Another effective solution to this communication dilemma is
related to defining the “who, what, where, when and how” of any client-designer
relationship, specifically those related to project planning, initiation and
approvals. This strategy is about defining the points of communication, in
terms of role clarity and collaboration. The best teams focus on working with
their clients to identify collaboration opportunities, particularly for
higher-level more strategic and complex projects, between the clients and
collaboration opportunity is the development of project initiation forms for
high-level strategically important or complex projects. This usually revolves
around identifying important face-to-face meetings. In these project-specific
meetings, clients and the design team meet to have the sometimes tough but
much-needed conversations that result in the definition, alignment and understanding
of both business and creative strategies and objectives. Essentially, gathering
all the pieces of the puzzle to better understand the bigger picture. In this
situation, the creative team collaborates with their clients to gain everyone’s
collective input and requirements on the specific project. Together they also define and better understand who is involved in
the project (the project stakeholder), why they are involved, what knowledge
and expertise they bring to the relationship, when and where do they get
involved, and how.
Overall, when evaluating
communication challenges in the future, rather than simply focus on the form, focus
on relationship building, being more involved in up-front planning, and spending
more time on the collaboration and communications points in the relationship.
Those strategies will go a long way to unravel and define a seamless and more
successful project development process.
Emily has consulted with design firms and in-house corporate creative departments for over twenty years. During this time, she has provided confidential, best-practice insights and advice on staff, client, and process-management strategies,
conducting client surveys and writing winning proposals, creative briefs, RFPs , and contracts. She helps creative teams improve operational effectiveness and helps companies build efficient teams and processes. She served on the board of advisors of InSource,
on the AIGA In-House task force and as Secretary for the AIGA/NY Board of Directors. Emily has also taught classes and conducted seminars for many leading design schools and organizations. Emily is a frequently-requested speaker on business-related issues
for the creative industry and has spoken at The Association Of Registered Graphic Designers Of Ontario (RGD Ontario), HOW, MYOB, Design Business Association (DBA) and InHOWse Conferences, as well as at numerous AIGA conferences and events. Learn more at www.emilycohen.com
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in-house design, INitiative, innovation
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professional development, continuing education
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