Keeping creative fresh as the years go by

A client recently launched a video we produced earlier this year, kicking off the 2024 season of a campaign we’ve worked on together for a decade. Over the years, we’ve developed a great relationship built on mutual respect, trust, collaboration, creativity, and candor. We also happen to like each other, which is valuable when the work involves traveling together, figuring out where to grab dinner, and finding each other at the hotel bar after a long shoot day. We can communicate in a form of shorthand, and we don’t need a lot of explanation or background to jump into projects.

However, this level of familiarity and comfort with the material and people has the potential to diminish the creative output over time. That’s why companies often seek new partners or undergo agency reviews—to spark new conversations, spur their partners to innovate, and see what others bring to the table. We’re well aware of the need to keep things fresh, and we push ourselves to maintain this relationship. In fact, the video that just launched ended up being one of our favorites of the past ten years for several reasons, including bringing in new visual effects and playing around with pacing to create a different energy.

Our experience has revealed a few mindsets and approaches that can help make longevity in relationships an asset, not a drag.

Reflect the world around you; it’s changing by the minute

The stories we tell, and how we tell them, can’t be informed by the source material alone. We have to keep a pulse on the trends, ideas, and events that inform how a message or image is perceived and what the audience is prioritizing in the moment. For a sports-related campaign we worked on, for instance, we interviewed Olympic and Paralympic athletes, who told us about themselves, their lives, and their passions. One of the athletes, an Olympian and medical student, discussed the importance of women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Her story took on a greater dimension against the backdrop of the June 2022 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The creative choices made in the storytelling and visuals reflected this critical moment in time, heightening tension and emotion and opening new avenues for narrative and cultural hooks that resonate with people.

Draw inspiration from new and surprising sources

As creative strategists, we’re constantly scouting for ideas and scribbling notes (or tapping them into our Notes app) as they come. Our team keeps a “content inspiration library” in which we link all kinds of standout content we encounter, including data visualizations, interactives, and videos, as well as storytelling or visual techniques from blockbuster movies. We turn to this log when we want to spark our imagination, spur innovation, and challenge what we’ve already come up with—a pressure test to see if our first round of ideas passes muster or if there’s a better version out there, a different standard we should be holding ourselves to. And sure, we’re not making blockbuster movies or Super Bowl commercials, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from those who do.

In one example, we were working with a long-term client on a talent-recruiting video. We’d worked on several of this client’s recruiting videos in the past, so, seeking inspiration, we turned to a Bruno Mars music video and a Levi’s commercial featuring a model shot on a cyc wall. Neither of these screams “corporate communications,” but we built on these visual threads and tone to create a talent video that felt truly differentiated from the client’s peers. And that’s also where a great long-term client relationship comes in. When you start a concept or storyboarding call with, “I’m going to show you these examples, but just stay with me,” long-term clients know they can trust you to keep their goals at the heart of the creative, and they stick around. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll let you know. Which brings us to …

Embrace candor

At the start of new client relationships, both parties are still getting to know each other. On the agency or vendor side, people are likely fearful of putting forth an inadequate or half-baked idea before they’ve earned the clients’ trust enough to brainstorm or think out loud. That’s where a long-term client relationship has a huge advantage. You’ve likely been through countless rounds of brainstorming, feedback, and revisions, sometimes needing to reverse course or redirect resources to hit the mark, but ultimately coming through. You’ve built a foundation to discuss early ideas or musings that might not knock it out of the park but lay the groundwork to get there. The agency can poke holes in the client brief and respectfully question ideas and messaging; the clients can plainly tell the agency what’s not working for them and which ideas need to be revisited. In our long-term client relationships, we talk openly and honestly, and more important, we listen to each other.

Yes, this can happen with new clients too, but we know it sometimes takes a few rounds of working together to achieve that level of ease and candor. And we’re in it for the long haul.

Alia Samhat

Alia is a partner at Leff. Her expertise is in creative strategy and content development. She spends her time working with writers, marketers, designers, video producers, analysts, and subject matter experts to produce meaningful work.

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