I recently interviewed Lindsey Laughlin – Digital Marketing & Operations Director – on the topic of client partnership, and how that differs from “just doing a job.” Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.
What’s the difference between partnering with a client and “just doing a job?”
One of the things that I think makes Gravity different is believing strongly in collaboration, meaning when we partner with clients we’re getting to an end result together. We keep in mind the aspects of their brand, or company, or personality that are unique, and make sure those are part of the end result. This is really different from creating something on your own, and presenting it with a big “ta-da.” We’ve found the end result is stronger if we work together with the client, trading input along the way. And that way we all finish with the sense that we’ve created something together.
What does everyday communication look like, when you’re collaborating with a client like this?
For one thing, I see my clients as part of my team. Just like I would a coworker, I’m keeping them informed along the way and updating them on milestones. It’s different from a traditional vendor relationship, where there isn’t a lot of communication back and forth during the whole project — just at the beginning and the end. It’s a closer and more collaborative relationship when you partner on something.
Also, working so closely with people means I get to know them and can help when they need it. For instance, I know when my partners are going on vacation, and I can be sure to get them what they need before they leave and after they get back. Or I might ask a partner if they need me to pick up a task on a week where they have a particularly heavy workload because a project is due.
That kind of thing is what makes what I do less of a job, and more of something I enjoy doing. When I work closely with people, I get to know what’s happening with them at work and even sometimes at home. That makes it easier to see how I can help when someone is in a tough situation, or to empathize and be flexible when I need to be.
If you take relationships out of projects, then it’s just a job. When you incorporate that human aspect and really embrace it, that’s when you enjoy what you’re doing and it becomes much more valuable and important.
How does your approach to client partnership impact collaboration on projects?
I think partnership is key to collaboration in our work. I remember at one of my previous jobs, my managers brought in a lot of consultants. My team often got the impression that outsiders were being brought in to tell us what to do, without really getting to know us. We weren’t very motivated to work with them or follow their recommendations because we didn’t feel like they really listened to our point of view.
As a partner, you want to generate a much different feeling than those consultants. What makes people enjoy working with you is when you truly listen. At Gravity, if we’re in a meeting and someone makes a comment, we make sure to hear what they said, and follow up on it. Partnership-level communication isn’t just talking or sending an email, it’s actually listening.
More fundamentally, this lets us get to know our clients and makes them people we’re working with, not just “clients.” We have inside jokes with our clients. We send nice emails to each other when we know someone’s having an anniversary, or when a project went particularly well. We notice when people are having a tough day, and try to be understanding and helpful. It’s those little moments that make for a good relationship, and that make our job so rewarding.
If you really listen, collaboration happens easily. That’s partnership. And the more you can listen and work together to craft something, the better it’s going to be.