BIMA Client Service Directors’ Breakfast Series – Innovative Collaboration with Clients

28 Apr 2017

Posted by Anna Doyle

Observations from the BIMA roundtable breakfast hosted by DigitasLBi on 25th April 2017:

It was an unusually cold morning for the time of year and some of us had been up from the crack of dawn for the latest BIMA CSD breakfast, so we all arrived at DigitasLBi grateful for their hospitality and hot coffee. Perhaps April is the cruellest month. Luckily, Emma and Iain quickly lead us away from our morning wasteland into an animated and diverse conversation delving into how to collaborate with your clients successfully and innovatively. As I type away, I sense this might be my shortest CSD blog as the Chatham House Rules policy was truly embraced and as such much that was said in the room truly needs to stay there!

Sharing experiences and insights round the table were CSD’s and Heads of Account Management from Cognifide, e3, Lab, Output Studio, Rawnet, Redweb, TH_NK, Ustwo, We Are Social and Zone. The session opened with a round robin of expectations and current thoughts on innovative collaboration. This process revealed interesting observations, challenges and approaches, including:

- ripping the rule book up every time to manage different clients’ expectations and working practices

- co-locating with clients (this lead to much debate later in the session)

- Innovation is often seen as the partner of tech but it should be at every part of the project and the client / team relationship

- For some innovation means big budget and seismic change but often it can be little things that make the difference. In fact it can be often better to innovate gently rather than thrust change upon your client / team: softly, softly, low budget, test and see

- Unlocking what your client means by “innovation” can also be complex, and structures within your client organisation often create barriers to innovation, especially in the digital space.

- Client culture is key and finding the right people in the client organisation to drive innovation and be your ally is essential

- Innovate within your own processes: is your team structure right? Should you be merging disciplines rather than having pure roles? Are the approaches you use to new business equally appropriate to building stronger relationships with current clients?

- It was noted that innovation can be a tricky word as it does not necessarily immediately equate to results and profits but can conjure negative responses such as fear, cost, risk, loss of control and not being business critical. Therefore there is a need to demonstrate it is business critical, being clear on the pain vs gain is important.

Absorbing the depth and wealth of insight in the room, Iain then added his own observations before opening into his presentation:

- Without budget commitment from the top you will struggle to achieve

- Serious change management may be required to build a culture of innovation,65 and change management takes time

- Don’t be afraid to have clients “in the weeds of your business”. Get buy in and build real relationships for stronger collaboration

- Use influences, look at what other people are doing but make them your own

DigitasLBi have used various models and approaches to innovative collaboration with clients with big budget show pieces such as the innovator hub to more organic relationship lead strategies. Whatever the budget and strategy, Iain has key pillars for success:

THE MODEL – agile principles; senior stakeholder buy in (at the very least a hotline to the top if not direct contact); reciprocation between client and agency (this is a partnership); and co-location

THE APPROACH – adaptable (don’t get pigeon-holed by the model); understand your client’s business, their community and their client community; don’t be afraid to disrupt.

LOCATION – whether you drop your team into your client’s business or bring them into yours this raises many gnarly issues: are your team prepared to travel and walk away from their cool office space; how do you enable the client to settle into your organisation without inhibiting behaviours. But the essential aspect of doing this is to allow you to walk in each other shoes, to “put a bit of you” in the client. Furthermore the business consultants do this as a matter of course, it is client care but also cost saving to them. Clients expect it and it is a growing pain for agencies to adjust to.

INCUBATOR – is this a showcase piece or a real lab? It requires investment, change management, time and talent and won’t work in every case.

SUCCESS – requires buy in from the top and good relationships in procurement can be invaluable. Man-marking (which came up at a CSD breakfast last week) so you have the right member of your team with the right person client side is also a key success factor.

It was agreed the conversation could have continued for quite some time and it was agreed that BIMA will look to develop this into a panel session with stakeholders and clients and will be open to a wider CSD/AD audience. Watch this space…

A big thank you to Iain Preston for leading the session and hosting and to Emma Nicol for moderating.

About Iain Preston: Global Client Lead, Publicis Groupe

Iain has spent more than 16 years in client services, with experience spanning everything from digital strategy, to creative experience design, to platforms and managed services. For the past 2 and a half years he’s been part of the leadership team for DigitasLBi’s innovation partnership with AstraZeneca. This new business model creates digitally-centred products and services. Iain is passionate about helping businesses bring about real transformation through digital thinking. Over the years he has worked with brands including BT, Foot Locker and PlayStation.

Anna Doyle
Posted by Anna Doyle

A member of the BIMA Team since 2012, Anna‘s time is focused on the day-to-day operations of BIMA, building BIMA communities across regions and disciplines and, best of all, spending time with BIMA members to learn more about their business challenges and aspirations. Based in Glasgow, Anna is also responsible for delivering member services and support for BIMA Scotland. Everyday offers a new insight. Previous experience includes 4 years in the BBC Arabic Service newsroom, heading up a pan-BBC World Service change management programme, and working in a diverse range of industries from financial derivatives trading, petroleum engineering and spring manufacturing.

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