Striving for extraordinary partnerships

Recently I was asked, “What makes a really good client?”

My initial reply was to spout off a series of thoughts I developed over the years working with clients of all shapes and sizes. Statements that were primarily from the studio’s perspective, like…They need to be big thinkers. They need to have a budget. They need to have a history of working with a creative firm. They need to be collaborative. They need to….

You get it. Thankfully, I stopped myself before I climbed up too far on my soapbox. I asked for a bit more time to consider the question. For several days, I wrestled with the concept. Then I realized the better question is this:

“What type of business partnerships are most successful from both Skidmore’s and our clients’ point of view?”

When rephrased that way, I tapped into several recent conversations with some of our most active clients. If we created a word cloud from both sides of those chats, emails, and notes, we would see words like “partner” and “responsive” and “creative” prominently displayed. We would also see words that reflect shared values, like “challenge” and “teamwork” and “integrity.”

But this is not always the case. With some clients, our conversations tackle the disappointment of expectations not being met, of communication going off track.

Interestingly enough, you’d see similar words in this imaginary word cloud – just with a negative slant. This forced me to consider: How could we – the same group of people, at the same creative firm, with the same passion to succeed – hit the mark so perfectly most of the time, yet occasionally miss the target?

The answer lies in the core question of partnership. Before starting a new one, both parties need to consider what attributes and expectations they bring to the relationship, and then assess whether or not it’s a fit. It’s about being honest and transparent. Sharing strengths and weaknesses. Not trying to be all things to all people. Saying “no thanks”, even when it feels easier to say “yes”.

Twenty years ago, I was a client. I remember sitting across the desk from creative shops who would arrive with the primary mission of convincing me to work with them. Back then I didn’t have a great process to determine if that relationship could be successful. And if I could jump in the hot tub time machine and go back two decades, I’d tell my client-self these things:

  • Ask more direct and candid questions of the creative partner.
  • Answer questions more directly and candidly.
  • Focus on the outcome, the return on the investment, and not the price tag.
  • Be open about the budget.
  • Be willing to trust, and work on building trust.

The last one is a big one. Trust is a little word with the potential to generate huge results. But to arrive at a place of trust, both parties should be willing to make a commitment. When I was the client, I wish I understood this. I went into far too many relationships trying to “win” – to get just a little bit more, pay a little bit less. In the process, I eroded trust.

Today, as the owner of a creative firm, I’m still learning daily. Skidmore’s intention is to build more trusting relationships. Trust with our clients, and trust with the Skidmorvians who work here. Together we want to form strong, lasting, mutually beneficially partnerships and build a place that is special. Simply put, we want to create the extraordinary.

If you have a project that needs creative help, let’s start an open and honest conversation. Chances are – if you’re the type who reads to the bottom of a post like this – we might be a pretty good fit. And if you have any client-side ideas on what makes a good creative partner, I’d love to hear from you at