May 1, 2018

The Three Styles of a Creative Partnership

“Walk me through ways we can work together.”

“What will I get when we’re done?”

“How much do you think this is going to cost?”

You know the questions as well as we do. When asked by current or potential clients to work on a project, our first objective is to not only understand each client’s “what” but also their “why.” Why are you asking for X (logo, brochure, website, etc.)? Why do you feel Fifth Letter is the right fit for you?

Some folks have a laser-focus on exactly what they need and what they will do with it once they have it. Others are looking for a collaborative approach to discover what exactly their “what” and “why” look like.

We’ve been at this for a while. Fielding inquiries over the years has enabled us to categorize the three roles we’re often called upon to provide:
• The Maker
• The Consultant
• The Employee

This approach is true for any creative engagement, so we suggest taking time to think through these options (explained in detail below) before you hire someone…even if it isn’t us. And as with any business, these different roles have varied levels of expense, something worth asking about up front.

The most basic “back of the envelope” approach is to think about how much time (in hours, days or weeks) you want us to spend on your project. A big project moving quickly may mean several team members working in tandem and burning the midnight oil. A small project with a longer timeline may only need one team flying solo at a more leisurely pace. Understanding how and why we work together will help with some of the quick math.

Option 1: The Maker

We are going to work together on your assignment. It may involve a single team member or multiple team members. Once your project is complete, we are moving on to the next one.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t want more work. (Hint: We do.) It means we have done what we agreed to do. This option works for a one-off project or a job where the information and scope are already tightly defined. It could be as simple as designing a graphic for an upcoming social media post (such as a Fourth of July event) or as complex as a fully-functional, brand new website. But remember, the scope will not deviate beyond what has been agreed-upon without affecting both budget and timeline. Meaning, if you want your Fourth of July event graphic designed for an email, tell us in advance if you plan to use it on a billboard, because we will need to take additional time to create something usable for both purposes.

These assignments are priced by the hour or on a per project basis.

Option 2: The Consultant

We are going to listen to your needs with a more broad perspective.

There will be project work with this option as well, but in addition we will want to know how that work fits into your overall marketing plan. What are the goals and objectives? How is it being budgeted? Based upon your answers, we may actually provide advice in place of your original idea or to supplement the idea. After your project is delivered, we will check back in to help measure success and effectiveness.

These assignments are priced on a per project basis.

Option 3: The Employee

Don’t let the title concern you. This doesn’t mean that you’re hiring a new employee.

But it does mean that you want us to be involved when thinking through the scope and objectives of your plan. And then we take on the responsibility for maintaining that plan, ensuring it is on time, on target and implemented correctly. This is the option to choose when you expect these functions will be carried out automatically without any further prompting from you, with us having taken ownership of not just the creation of the materials but seeing them through to maximum effect. Think of this as your outsourced marketing department.

This role is priced via a retainer or set monthly fee.

Why are these distinctions important?

It can be very confusing (for both you and us) if you budget for an order taker and expect a consultant (or vice versa).

For example, let’s look at the task of building that website mentioned earlier. In an order taker role, we will meet with you, listen to what you want, and tell you what we are capable of doing within your budget and deadline. If we agree to move forward together, we will build your site, toss you the keys and wish you luck. Think of Forrest Gump assembling and disassembling his military rifle during boot camp.

In a consultant role, we will meet with you, listen to what you want, ask how your website will fit into the rest of your business plan and suggest additional tools if they make sense. Once we’ve worked together to determine the scope of work, budget and timeline, we will build what you’ve requested and hand you the keys. Additionally, we will make sure your website is working as expected with items such as live email accounts, social media integration, analytics, etc. When all is in good working order, we will wish you luck. Think Ghostbusters. When the light is green, the trap is clean.

In an employee role, we will meet with you and listen to what you want, suggest additional tools, determine the work scope and then, when agreed upon by both parties, assume the role of project manager for your website and any additional items, soup to nuts, for as long as we have an agreement in place. Think of John Turturro’s butler character in Mr. Deeds, magically appearing from the ether with just the right thing at the perfect moment.

Need a smaller example, maybe without the movie references?

No problem. Remember the special Fourth of July event we mentioned earlier? Today is July 5th. What happens?

With us as the order taker, you are responsible for your website and social media content now being out-of-date and will need to fix it. As the consultant, we will have provided a reminder and, if we are being paid to, revise your event information. The employee role means we will proactively catch and update the information based upon a plan already in place.

Make sense? Let us know your thoughts. Or better yet, let’s figure out which style is best for you.

Photo of Elliot

Elliot Strunk, Ringleader at Fifth Letter. When he's not out meeting and greeting new faces, you can find him fostering relationships within his team. He can be reached at