We recently concluded our final CreativeExecs Roundtable in our Spring Series in which we visited six cities to discuss ways in which to improve relationships with clients. Tom Klug, a Cella Consultant, moderated the roundtables and will be presenting a recap of the key findings via complimentary webinar this week and next (sign-up information below). In advance of the webinars, I wanted to share some of my observations from the live events. It is easy to assume that this discussion topic might quickly divert to matters of working with particularly difficult clients, and rightly so. Our 2012 In-House Creative Industry Report shows that most in-house creative leaders identify the relationships with their clients as their top departmental challenge. However, the discussions at these Roundtables focused less on the "bad client" stories that we all know everyone experiences, and instead focused on positive, productive idea sharing aimed at helping each other to develop excellent client relations. During our travels (we visited northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas), I noticed that ideas shared on this topic usually fell into five key areas. Department Value Proposition The expectations on an in-house agency or creative department are usually quite high, often including elements of high-quality work, quick turnaround and low costs. It is important to identify a focused value proposition for your department that is rooted in the mission of your organization and the goals and objectives of your internal clients. A good value prop must also be centered around services that your creative department can confidently and competently deliver on. When you have both your clients and your creative team beating to the same "value drum" for your organization, client relationships can quickly move towards strategic partnership. Organizational Structure Where does your in-house agency report to in the organization, and how are your teams and roles structured? Groups who are firmly entrenched within and integrated with advertising and marketing departments often feel very differently about their client relationships as compared to in-house agencies who operate as a shared service across company divisions. Additionally, many groups have account management or other customer service related roles, which typically resulted in improved client relations. Your department reporting structure, team structure and the unique design of the roles in your department have a significant impact on how well you are able to manage relationships with internal clients. Process & Project Management Regardless of company, team size and other characteristics, a creative team's process typically consists of a few standard steps. However, some teams may lack a formalized creative process or be dealing with characteristics that make it difficult to have a "one-size-fits-all" process. The big value in process as it relates to client relations is the word "expectations." When process is designed, educated, and followed by both your creative team and your internal clients, all parties involved will be able to have a clearer idea of what to expect before and during the lifecycle of a project. This said, it's also important to accept the reality of the creative world--our designed processes need to have flexibility and opportunities for fast-tracking in order to be successful in the reality that is our everyday. Client Communication Communication is both an art form and a science. There are both "soft" and "hard skills" of client communication. On the softer side, it is important to understand the natural talents and abilities of your individual team members. How clearly and effectively do they communicate with your internal clients? Is there room for professional development in this area? On the hard skills side, designing structured communications touch points like creative briefs, creative reviews and post-mortem sessions can offer significant value when managing client relationships. Relationship Building Relationship building is not simply rooted in good personality and finding new ways to engage and connect with your internal clients. The strongest, most trustworthy client/creative relationships are built when the creative department can provide valuable solutions to their clients at a time when they need it most. And this can happen by design. It is very possible for a creative group to be intentional and strategic in the way they are going about building these types of client relationships, and those who are doing so are certainly reaping the rewards.