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Five Tips For Better Client-Agency Collaboration.

We all know collaboration can be a key ingredient in the quest for great results. We were powerfully reminded of this during our recent rebrand of Aruba—a leading enterprise mobility company based in Silicon Valley. Our client described the experience of working together as “the perfect blend of creativity, partnership, flexibility, and fun.” Here are five fail-safe tips for creating a great client-agency working relationship.

Tip 1: Get your team in place, and clearly define roles, responsibilities, and process.


Developing a brand identity takes a lot of work by a lot of people—on both the client and agency side. To get the ship moving and keep it on course, it’s critical to get the crew organized. In the case of the Aruba rebrand, Our team worked very closely with Aruba’s CMO, Ben Gibson, and Aruba’s Senior Director of Corporate Marketing, Annie Headley, both of whom played played pivotal leadership roles, providing vision and getting the right people in the room, at the right time, to give input, authorize decisions, and implement results. “Together with the Aruba team, we did the work upfront to create a really good process,” says Martha Bowman, Director of Brand Strategy at Liquid Agency. “And everybody lived it the way we planned it.”

Tip 2: Build trust and understanding, really get to know each other.


It’s one thing to know your business; it’s another thing to know you. At Liquid, we believe in the importance of doing both. We did extensive research, including interviews with the client, customers, and industry analysts, to fully understand “Aruba’s strengths and the unique position they could own,” says Bowman. (This work revealed that Aruba provides underlying ingredients of better mobile network experiences everywhere, a finding that shaped the company’s new brand position, “the nexus of intelligent mobility.”) But the discovery process didn’t end there; it had a personal dimension, too, with some team members even spending a day together in Monterey just to get to know each other better. “Getting to really know people allows the relationship to move beyond role playing into a new level of collaboration,” says Boyd Tveit, Director of Brand Design at Liquid Agency. “That’s really valuable to build trust.”

Tip 3: Share your ideas early and often, before they’re perfect.


“Rapid prototyping” is a process of building quick models and testing hypotheses to speed up the learning curve and yield stronger results. An important part of Liquid’s Silicon Valley Thinking approach, rapid prototyping is also inextricably tied to effective collaboration; in a way, they’re two sides of the same coin. That’s because both start with a willingness to let go of perfection and perform messy creative acts in front of, and with the help of, colleagues. Aruba fully embraced this way of working—starting by giving approval to an impromptu idea for a visual direction we presented early in the process, with our initial strategy deck. Members of Aruba’s team met with the Liquid team at least once a week to hear ideas and brainstorm, even coming to Liquid’s offices to respond directly to reference matter and visual ideas under development. “This helped us focus where we were going and what issues we needed to resolve,” says Tveit, who led the development of Aruba’s new visual identity. It also helped move the project forward quickly, which was crucial for meeting Aruba’s aggressive six-month timeline for launching the rebrand.


Tip 4: Communicate clearly, listen carefully, and be supportive.

No matter how strong your commitment to collaboration, not every task requires the whole group’s involvement. Some jobs are best handled by executive decision makers, others by small groups and individuals with specialized expertise. (Defining what your brand stands for? All hands on deck, especially your captain. Crafting the precise curves of your new logo? Probably not your CEO.) But even when it’s time for a solo performance, a good group dynamic lays the foundation for applause-worthy results. In the case of Aruba’s rebrand, thanks to that groundwork individual players, on both client and agency sides, had what they needed—including a solid understanding of the mission at hand, and the confidence of the group—to play their parts effectively. From a new brand platform centered on the idea of intelligent mobility, to a visual identity that draws on theme of interconnectedness, the results exceeded Aruba’s expectations.

Tip 5: Take time to encourage your teammates—and to celebrate your successes.


Emotions matter. Setting a good mood has a positive effect on any project, at minimum making the work more enjoyable for you and your team. In the case of Aruba, a spirit of amicability grew naturally from the robust collaborative process: “You could tell how much we liked each other,” says Bowman. “That’s what happens when the trust is there and we do something great together.” But players on both client and agency sides also took proactive steps to keep morale high. Aruba’s CMO, Ben Gibson, sent regular e-mails to his cohorts to share praise and encouragement, including a description of the company’s internal rebrand launch as “probably the easiest, most fulfilling internal presentation I’ve given … Just what we needed to think big and hit the right note.” Following the external launch at Aruba’s Atmosphere conference March, the entire Aruba and Liquid team scheduled a dinner to celebrate a job well done. But the collaboration continues. “The best part,” writes Ben, “is that we’re just getting started!”

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