The importance of clear communication

Q) What do a boatful of gravy, a bootful of sausages, an combustible pair of pants and our Ian and have in common?

A) No, not a fast track to his P45… They all highlight the importance of clear communication.

Following on from Ian’s ‘On spec’ blog last month, this is the latest lesson in our series
of quick educational tips to help in our day jobs.

And this time we’re looking at… account handling. 

Our account handlers provide clients with decades of agency experience, gathered from a wealth of places, big, small, corporate, and boutique, from behind 438’s blue front door on a daily basis. This, combined with our size, creativity and business model, gives us the ability to serve our clients’ every need at a fair price and often at impressive speed. That, paired with us all being a lovely bunch who go above and beyond, has led to amazing client relationships, many lasting over a decade!

Today though, we’re looking at some Account Handling classics that start with C. (No Tom, not that c-word.)


As account handlers, it’s essential we communicate clearly and professionally with clients, each other and our fellow 438ers across departments. Which can often mean asking the questions we didn’t know we needed to ask! 

Let’s look at an example – 

G went into town for a roast. She ordered beef with all the trimmings. The waiter brought it out and it didn’t have gravy (WTAF?!). She obviously requested some and some 20 minutes later it arrived. Only, to G’s disbelief, the restaurant tried to charge her extra. So, who was in the wrong?

You could look at this two ways:

G assumed gravy was included and didn’t think she needed to check up front if this was the case (after all, we’re in the North and it’s borderline illegal to serve a roast without gravy).

The restaurant assumed G knew that gravy wasn’t included, and that if she wanted some it would cost extra.

If when G had asked for some gravy, the restaurant had said it’ll be an extra £4, she’d have probably told them to stick it, but the first she knew about it was when she got the bill, so quite rightly, she wasn’t happy. (Also, who charges £4 for gravy?!)

This example clearly speaks to how clear communication upfront can prevent issues like scope creep. Let’s swap out gravy for our own example: our lovely client need another 16 slides
designing for one of their decks. We’ve already agreed a scope to work on their other 16 slides
so G quite rightly tells them its going to cost extra up front. It’s their decision whether to
invest in the additional work or not.

You get the idea – clear, concise communication is essential to keep the cogs turning, creatives creating and clients happy. And don’t be scared to go old-school and pick up the phone to a client either. Emails are great, but when you’ve typed out anything over100 words it probably means it’s worth a conversation.  


Being clear is implied with the point above, of course, but it’s important and aligns beautifully with Ian’s blog to seek clarity in the detail of client briefs – especially the woolly ones. Ooh, itchy.

Let’s imagine that Element is testing how hot one of their client’s newest pair of woolly briefs gets before setting alight (570-600°C for those wondering). They have an extensive list of questions that they need answers to before a naked flame goes anywhere near these wondrous kecks, and this procedure should be the same when we’re taking client briefs, too.

So, ask ‘why?’ more. Challenge what clients want and what they’re hoping to achieve by using us. Because then, and only then, will we have the clarity to Make Change Matter for them.

For example, could we think deeper about the audience and probe the client more on the specifics? If we were helping Element’s client sell their woolly briefs, we may recommend a postcode-targeted Facebook campaign where we know the majority population is over the age of 70. It’d be money wasted recommending the same campaign runs in a student-rich neighbourhood like Fallowfield.

So, if you’re going onto a call to take a new brief, have a look at one of our creative, motion or project briefs 15 minutes before. These are all questions that we need clarifying answers to BEFORE starting a project. It’s that clarity up front that will allow us and the Studio to fire on all cylinders.

Cause and effect

Time is precious. We rightly get reminded of that all the time, but it couldn’t be truer for account handlers. Managing our own and others’ time whilst juggling client expectations is an art form. It’s either a natural gift or a well-crafted mindset honed over years of experience.

Take Steph and Megs who have just taken a new campaign brief from Isuzu. They’d like our help telling their audience about how many sausage dogs can fit in the back of their top-of-the-range D-Max. It’s going to be one hell of a shoot. We know that the campaign needs to go live in four weeks, so have pulled together a project plan outlining what needs to happen, by who, and when.

Our lovely client know that we’ve got certain studio slots booked on dates specified in the timing plan, so they know they need collate and provide feedback by certain dates. But there’s a problem… They’re late feeding back on our initial ideas, which means we can’t progress the project as we’d planned. This ultimately means we’ve now only got half the time we had planned to keep things moving. Whilst we’re good, the output will naturally look very different if we only have half of the time.

It’s this knock-on effect of things being delayed that impacts on the quality, cost or speed of our output.

Keeping clients informed on when we have resources booked is a key part of making sure projects get completed within deadlines but also within the time that is needed to make our output fabulous. If clients don’t come back with feedback when they’re supposed to, it’s our responsibility as account handlers to let them know about knock-on effects.

So, there we have it. A mix of clarity in our communication and honest and well-thought-out time management is something that’s always worth remembering. A boatful of gravy, a bootful of sausages, and an combustible pair of pants… well, that’s an image you won’t forget.