Poor communication is often why projects and client relationships go off the rails. Meetings are a big part of your communications effort and they have to be planned with care. Every meeting you have is important: if you build trust, you move the ball forward and you reinforce for the client why hiring you was a good decision.
We've identified 3 critical “moment of truth” meetings that deserve special attention from you and your team. These meetings are:
1. Kickoff Meeting
You’ve been awarded the business and it’s the first team meeting. A good Kickoff will establish your leadership. A bad Kickoff will have you re-actively scrambling for the rest of the project. You want the first kind.
Your preparation is important. Do you have an agenda and know what you want to accomplish? Have you communicated this to your team? Do they each understand their roles?
The Kickoff’s purpose is two-fold: first, for you and the client to get on the same page about what you pitched and what they bought. Do they have different expectations? Alignment is crucial.
The second is to establish your work process: to review the schedule and budget, understand how their decision-making works, to establish communications protocol, how you get paid, etc.
Often there may be 2 different “clients” as well: the client project manager may not be the person who’s responsible for creative. Review the agenda beforehand with the client project manager. Make sure they know what you want to accomplish and allow the appropriate time. Maybe the “process team” is a smaller sub-meeting, but this is critical and can’t be an after-thought.
2. Creative Review
After weeks of development you have something to show your client. The temptation to “just email it” is always present, but it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.
We’ve seen creative sent to the client without representation and explanation result in confusion and worse, an erosion of trust. The team had to play catch-up and rebuild the client's trust for the rest of the project.
Don’t assume your client understands your intentions and how the work supports the strategy you eloquently reviewed weeks ago. They deserve your time and leadership to walk through the work, to explain, to answer questions, discuss options and to provide the information they'll need to understand it all, especially if they have to sell it upstairs. They may want a few days to digest it before providing feedback – that’s fine, the important thing is you’ve positioned why the work is relevant.
And if the client says: “I don’t have time for a meeting, just email it to me,” you have a moment of truth. You'll need to stand up for your effort, your process and to demonstrate the leadership that's necessary for success.
The Debrief should be on the timeline from the outset – the client should know it's part of your process.
This isn’t really about hearing what was great or what went wrong. If it’s solely a report card on your team, you failed to establish your agency through the project. This meeting should be an examination of how you and the client worked together to meet the stated goals, and how to apply this learning to the next project so it's even better.
Hold your internal debrief first. Get everything out on the table and hold each other accountable. Figure out how you can be better, and be sure to spend most of the time planning the client Debrief and what you want to accomplish. As with other meetings, develop a strong agenda and set each person’s role. If you know there are going to be issues, role play your responses. The last thing you want is to choke out an answer to a tough question.
Often agency teams are anxious: Can we tell the truth? Do we want to hear the truth? If you’re walking into the meeting from the position of leadership you established at the Kickoff and delivered during the project, you shouldn’t be worried. The best Debriefs require you to be vulnerable and strong: acknowledge where you have room for improvement and where you brought value and to also have a point of view about how the client could operate better. That’s leadership, and clients want to work with leaders.
Effective project communication doesn’t happen by accident. A good agency always holds these meetings. A GREAT agency makes these meetings a part of their process and trains their teams to conduct them. Be a great agency.