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”That’s not in scope.

-The death knell to any working relationship.

We don’t want to say it. Clients don’t want to hear it. And yet, it stands – elephant-esque – as the last, and only, line of defense in the fixed-bid, agency-client ecosystem.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve begun evolving our approach with clients to avoid this tipping point where collaborators become adversaries. And central to this shift is the realization traditional fixed bid projects do not work in today’s business climate. Businesses’ needs have always been fluid, but in the accelerated pursuit of innovation, the pace of change has surpassed the project level. In the semantics of work objectives, unless it’s institutional in scope, the project can be better served in the open air of hours rather than a finite list of deliverables.

The hesitation from clients is understandable. The fixed bid guarantees clients a specific return on their investment. Kind of. It guarantees a defined list of deliverables, but does nothing to ensure quality, satisfaction or their timely delivery. What it most certainly does not guarantee is efficiency, incentivizing instead the full use of the allotted time and resources, always pushing to the next scope and the upsell as the pathway to further engagement and more billings.

This also leads to the dreaded conversation with clients when we have to tell them they don’t have any more revisions or they’re only scoped for three landing pages instead of four. Despite the desire to accommodate additional requests and be flexible, saying yes is a slippery slope. Why can we do it one time and not the next time? The inconsistency leaves everyone feeling irritated and suspicious of the other party’s true motivations.

We’d much rather spend our time working to push our clients’ business forward – the extra landing page – than defending the scope and bottomline. But this alternative requires a great deal of trust from the client. To allocate budget without a guaranteed list of deliverables, the client has to believe in the abilities and dedication of our team to deliver above and beyond what they would expect from a traditional scope. They have to believe us when we tell them that the flexibility allows us to work faster and explore further than if we had to check for budget every time we had a great idea or write a change order every time they need to shift scope. And it does.

It’s also critical for clients to be comfortable behind the curtain and in the trenches with us. To truly maximize the potential of flexibility, there has to be a higher level of participation from the client. A willingness to work with us in the moment and speak freely and candidly. Ultimately, it’s this intimacy between client and agency that produces exciting, fresh work, the spark of creativity stoked by those who live and breathe the brand and business on a daily basis. And it’s for this reason we’ve seen the greatest success with clients we have a previous working relationship with. While possible to quickly foster intimacy with new clients, familiarity is a powerful accelerator in partnership and progress.

At the heart of this reexamination is the desire for mutually beneficial outcomes. That both client and agency can walk away from a project happy, excited and feeling as though the work was both meaningful and impactful. That there was a purpose and that the purpose was fulfilled. And, to us, that purpose is the outcome we’re trying to reach, not the steps we envision using to get there.

Great creative is great for business. It opens doors, changes minds and offers reasons to believe beyond price point and product features. The foundation of great creative, trust between the client and their partner. If the relationship is key, then so too is flexibility in the face of change, and finding a better way to structure projects that allows us to focus on doing great work versus writing a great scope. On partnership versus vendor relations. Is it the right approach for all projects? Maybe not. But we’re committed to finding a solution that allows us to work more freely and seamlessly with clients. The potential for mutually beneficial outcomes depend on it.