What makes a good client relationship? Respect trumps creative freedom for leading agencies

A new study from Aufi surveys over 50 studios – including Koto, DesignStudio and Manual – to find out how they measure successful creative work today.

29 June 2022

In the creative industry, agencies are often hired for an intangible asset – their creative outlook. And as these studios deliver subjective results, it’s hard to know how they measure their success or “creativity”. Equally, how do they define a successful working culture today? A new study from creative consultancy Aufi attempts to get to the bottom of these concerns. Gathering data over six months from 50 leading studios like Accept & Proceed, Moniker and RoAndCo, Aufi investigates how studios view and define successful client-agency relationships, creative attributes, and social impact, with revealing results.

One of the most unexpected findings might be what agencies measure a successful client relationship by. While the assumed golden creative asset of “creative freedom” and “a good brief” came in at only one per cent and eight per cent respectively, connection and communication seem central to “success”. Respect (25 per cent), chemistry (21 per cent) and ambition (17 per cent) all scored highest; leaps and bounds above the score for being “on time and on budget” at zero per cent (!).

Interestingly, awards and the quantifiable return of profit (while still important for commercial clients) also seem to be on a downward trend. Asking creatives how they measure success, “positive impact” leads at 40 per cent. “Measurement needs to look at a number of angles, with positive impact being at the top and the rest feeding into it,” expands Mark Liney, group CEO at DesignStudio. Meanwhile, this squared against a resounding 0 per cent vote for “awards”, which Aufi founder Nicholas Bell points out “tells of the mindset creatives are in these days, as opposed to the culture a few years ago.”


Aufi: The Creative Study (Copyright © Aufi, 2022)

The study also reveals insights into the minimum marketing mindset many studios and agencies are taking towards DEI and representation. “Even just being in meetings, sometimes it feels like the attitude towards issues and social problems can be a little bit begrudging for people,” says Nikita Walia, founder of Blank. William Esparza, founder and CEO of Hyphenated adds: “Our industry is great at image making and slogan writing, which disguises what is really not happening.” The Aufi study concludes that while a lot of studios place DEI as crucial to creative success, “there’s still a lot of confusion over how to drive meaningful change”.

In terms of how other industries are quantifying creativity today, the study states: “big brands now see creativity as an asset”. Citing the example: “In a 2016 move that surprised many in the asset management world, BlackRock Inc. appointed as its CMO the former CMO of American media company Buzzfeed”, the study reports more creatives are joining leadership teams. Equally, companies are seeing “increased input from the creative folks to core parts of the business,” says Tom Hardy, Manifesto Studios founder.

Read more insights from the industry at Aufi’s site, where you can find the study – designed and branded by Made Thought.

GalleryAufi: The Creative Study (Copyright © Aufi, 2022)

Hero Header

Aufi: The Creative Study (Copyright © Aufi, 2022)

Share Article

About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.