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Clearly, we need more clarity

JD Biros

Partner/Creative Director

6 methods to improve client-agency communications and project workflow.


One of the most frustrating lessons I learned in journalism school also happens to be the best one.

At first it used to annoy me when my professor returned my article with red marks throughout the copy that read: Clarity minus 1.

I explained away the marks by declaring my prof a simpleton who couldn’t follow my story. A few boxes of red pens later, I accepted my mistake.

The hours I had put into interviews and research produced a story that only I understood. It lacked the critical details that made it easy for other people—my audience—to follow.

You probably see this same type of mistake every day.

Who hasn’t left a meeting uncertain about what happens next? Or read a detailed email and still didn’t have a clue about what’s going on?

Now think about the times you moved forward with that lack of clarity only to have to re-do work when things became clearer.

The lesson? Save yourself from frustration by avoiding false starts and working under assumptions. You’ll eliminate costly problems throughout a project. Here are a few techniques to improve project efficiency and outcomes through clarity in communications.

1. Slow down

As marketers we move at an unhealthy pace. Which means it’s normal to send out a quick response to a question or fire off a fast IM to the team to keep things in motion.

Unfortunately, those quick notes often leave people second guessing the intent and wondering about expectations. As bad as this is for internal teams, it’s even worse between the client and agency.

Best thing to do is take the extra time and make sure you understand the question and that your response leaves no ambiguity. Same thing when asking a question or providing an update.

2. Develop a shared vocabulary

Names of items or activities don’t always mean the same thing between teams. Companies and agencies have their own vocabulary, and not just in acronyms. It’s driven by the culture, experiences, and personalities. For example: what your team might call a “poster” could be considered a “banner” by your vendor.

If your agency asks for details about a request, it’s to ensure everyone’s talking about the same thing.

Or if you hear a term that’s new to you—because our industry is notorious for renaming things so they sound fresh—get a definition. Do it now, because a misunderstanding might cost you lost time and money later.

3. Listen to what you’re about to say

What’s rattling around in our heads doesn’t always make sense to another person. To be an effective communicator, you need to imagine being on the other end of your message. Use descriptive words but be concise. You can confuse your audience by overexplaining instead of simply using the right words in a clear and concise manner.

4. Set the marching orders

Before you end a meeting, recap the next steps. Don’t for a minute think that because everyone was in the discussion, everyone understands what to do next. Summarize the outcome and have the team verify their action items. In fact, the very best communicators start a meeting by setting expectations so it’s clear the goal of the gathering.

5. Spot the red flag phrases

There are a bunch, such as “Yeah, I think I get it...”, “well, we talked about...”, or “uh, I can probably figure it out...” The moment you hear them, stop and address them. There is no point in moving forward because it’s clear that clarity is lacking.

6. Follow the lead of our ancestors

For thousands of years, we’ve been drawing pictures to express ideas. Why stop now? Whiteboards are a must for workspaces. Sketches and scribbles can do more for finding clarity faster than just talking. The process even invites more team interaction, which strengthens understanding and improves plans and ideas.

Clarity takes effort, but it’s worth it

Clarity is a time-saver, a cost-saver, a sanity-saver, and in extreme cases, a business-saver. And all it takes is a little time and attention to what’s being communicated. There may never be enough time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it again.