You’ve determined the firm is the right fit, and they’ve agreed. There is mutual understanding of your needs. And you’re following their lead towards fulfilling them.
Awesome. Now what?
I was a Cast From Clay dance partner before.
About a year before Cast From Clay invited me to be on their first board of advisors, I was wrapping up one of the most professionally fulfilling projects of my career. And they helped me through it.
This was in 2020 (yeah, that year of “pivoting and recalibrating”). I was leading communications for the High Level Panel on a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), a project via the World Resources Institute. I hired Cast From Clay to help, and, as I’m sure they would agree, we achieved valuable harmony between client and communications consultancy.
Having previously worked at a large communications firm, I was accustomed to big budget campaigns. Fast forward to being at a think tank, I learned I could succeed with the right partner, even with resource limitations. And we have the metrics to prove it.
Since then, I have discussed with Cast From Clay both the hallmarks of a successful endeavour and what might make a project fall short.
I want to share how to get the most from your relationship with Cast From Clay. If you haven’t hired them yet, perhaps this will help you take the first step.
The way I see it, the dimensions of a successful engagement are values-driven. That is, rooted in: trust, strategic partnership, positive impact, proof of value, collective responsibility, pride of ownership, operational efficiency, and a growth mindset.
When you and your communications consultancy of choice have similar values, operationalising your scope of work is much smoother – not to mention more rewarding.
Here are my observations and recommendations.
1. Remember that trust is the foundation of the relationship
Without trust, both sides will fall short of their goals. Presumably, you have an element of trust in your communications consultancy or you would not have hired them to begin with.
The tricky part is maintaining that trust throughout the relationship. Note that the trust is between the people doing the work, but also the organisations themselves.
Transparency about everything from intentions to capacity to expertise must exist, as should honest feedback about specific work and how things are progressing.
This trust is exhibited by giving each other the benefit of the doubt and having constructive conversations as needed.
Cast From Clay will always endeavour to talk through what’s on your mind with an open mind of their own. On that note, one piece of advice I have taken through my career is, when giving feedback, don’t just dive into what you don’t like; instead, first comment on what you do like, then what needs improvement. It makes for a more productive and genial relationship. Having open conversations will ease tensions and maintain trust.
2. Think of it as a strategic partnership, not a buyer-supplier relationship
This is not simply a transaction between two parties; this is a thoughtful, intentional collaboration that requires as much strategic thinking, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills as it does sign-offs, ticking boxes and paying invoices.
Notably, you must distinguish between strategy on the one hand (such as insights to inform how you go about solving the problem before you) and execution on the other (like delivering social media graphics, print designs or websites).
It’s easy to lose sight of the strategy and insights when you’re feeling pressure to deliver tangibles that are tactical and output-based. Cast From Clay will deliver a strategic framework to keep you on track.
Remember, you’re not just buying things off the shelf; you are benefiting from the really smart thinking of your strategic partner.
3. Get clear about your goal – the positive impact you want to make
The goal is not a deliverable, like writing a master narrative or building a website. Expect Cast From Clay to push you on this.
They will ask you to go beyond tactics and outputs towards outcomes and, ideally, impacts on the world around you – whether that’s people or planet.
What changes do you want to see in audience behaviours? What environmental, economic or societal shifts do you envision as a result of your work? How does your purpose jibe with these?
Deft execution of a variety of tactics without your eye on an impactful goal will not yield the results you hope for.
Sure, you will achieve something, but not likely something you can promote to earn credibility and trust from your stakeholders – or make a difference in the world. Reaching a sensible goal enables you to tell a better story.
4. Make evaluation part of your strategy
Often, communications budgets go to strategy development and execution. Occasionally there will be some reporting, but these often focus on outputs and activities (like “we had 5 meetings this week!” or “we made a video series this month!”), not impact.
I urge you to find budget for evaluating your impacts and outcomes – whether you outsource it to Cast From Clay or to another third party, or you do it yourself.
Evaluation has many benefits: it allows you to prove the value of your investment; provides an incentive to implement the strategy fully; generates a sense of pride at the end; unlocks more investment in strategic thinking the more you reflect this back internally; and, once again, makes for better stories.
5. Take collective responsibility throughout
When you start working together, you and Cast From Clay will discuss and debate strategy or creative amongst the collective project team.
You will no doubt disagree on some things or ask them to further probe on something. There is some flexibility in who does what; for instance, you may lead internal and stakeholder interviews while Cast From Clay may lead message or creative testing.
But once you and they have agreed the strategic route forward and are presenting to internal stakeholders – whether it’s the leadership team, the Board, or external partners – you are all part of the same team. This means taking collective responsibility for the product and responding to feedback accordingly.
6. Be ready to claim the project as yours
Like I said, Cast From Clay helped me through one of the most professionally rewarding experiences of my career. I give them tons of credit, but I proudly owned that work.
You’ll get the best of Cast From Clay if you see them as an extension of your team. Yet you should also be looking to take ownership of the product at some point in the process, while Cast From Clay transitions from project manager to adviser.
There are multiple benefits to this:
1) This will ensure the product feels like your organisation’s strategy, not Cast From Clay’s, making it ever more likely to be fully implemented;
2) It will be more efficient for you in terms of time and budget. The strategy is rarely the final deliverable – there will usually be roll-out. Once you are clear on the direction of travel, taking ownership will free up Cast From Clay to drive the roll-out;
3) You may just end up with a career-defining effort to be really proud of.
7. Champion operational efficiency
Money is always sensitive, but I don’t just mean pay your bills on time.
You presumably spent a fair amount of time – from quite a few people – aligning on a scope of work. Don’t just set it aside; you must actually work it, and care for it, on both sides.
Caring for it means prioritising operational efficiency, i.e., staying focused and avoiding scope creeps as much as possible.
Cast From Clay will understand if you need to discuss a new direction or a new element of the engagement. But you must also understand that Cast From Clay carefully crafted a team and budget for the bespoke scope of work and changing it will have impacts on their end. Going back to trust, underscored by open and honest conversations, the hope is that you will receive this conversation constructively and together work out a reasonable solution (which sometimes may mean paying more).
This actually applies to the mini-projects within your scope as well. Especially for creative and development work, you need to align on a brief before kicking off the work.
Moreover, for any work, appreciate that the scope has a hard limit on rounds of edits for a reason. It’s not just budget-driven, it’s also to avoid the law of diminishing returns. A strong, integrated team right from the start will help minimize the potential risks outlined here.
8. Embrace the chance to learn and grow
I hadn’t really embraced the concept of a growth mindset until my daughter started primary school in a lovely London schoolhouse.
Inherent is a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for doing remarkable things.
It’s underscored by positivity, taking calculated risks, and accepting challenges. There’s a self-realisation that mistakes help you learn, that there’s often room for improvement, that there are alternatives, and that you are not alone.
In practice, it helps to shrug off “the client is always right” mentality when working with a communications consultancy. Instead, have a growth mindset – it’s a win-win for everyone.
In my experience as Cast From Clay’s client and certainly today as I serve as their advisor, I continue to grow professionally because they are experts in things that I am not. I guarantee you will too if you’re open to it.
As they say, it takes two to tango. Cast From Clay is well-positioned to help you do remarkable, impactful, purpose-driven work for your organisation and for you professionally. Let the dance begin.