Designing for Government Agencies
Insight Creative has been designing for clients in the Wellington market for over 25 years, working across hundreds of public sector projects from websites, brands, staff engagement and culture initiatives, marketing...
insight creative has been designing for clients in the wellington market for over 25 years, working across hundreds of public sector projects from websites, brands, staff engagement and culture initiatives, marketing campaigns, office fit-outs, installations, augmented reality, digital interactive projects and many more. we take a few minutes with paul saris, insight creative’s group account director to hear what he’s learnt in his ten years of working with government agencies.
who have you worked with?
who haven’t we worked with? i’d boldly claim we have done more government work than any other design agency in nz. kāinga ora, mbie, msd, ministry for women, culture and heritage, te puni kōkiri, health, ird, department of the prime minister and cabinet, foreign affairs, te papa, reserve bank of new zealand, transpower, internal affairs, nzta, nz post and many others.
one of the big ones was cera in christchurch following the earthquakes. we delivered numerous identity projects, websites, campaigns and hundreds of pieces of communication collateral. i still feel really proud thinking about just how much we delivered and what a difference it made to our clients and to christchurch.
what do you most enjoy about doing work in the public sector?
the main thing is knowing that you’re working for the nation’s public good. commercial goals are all well-and-good but i’ve come to appreciate the difference we make in a greater sense. it feels good, knowing you’re making a difference to people’s lives, for today and for many years in the future. i also love the variety of projects that come through with government – from the simplest printed information brochures to really complex websites and identities, like the work we did with safe to talk.
are marketers and communications people in government agencies different from those in corporates?
initially i thought public sector marketers were a different breed, but as time goes on i’m finding they are more the same than different, especially now as more of them move between government and private sector jobs.
the main difference i see is how they engage in the process and involve their stakeholders. in the private sector, engagement is managed tightly, decisions are made faster and strongly underpinned by financial roi. in government, the rules of engagement appear more inclusive, allowing for deeper and broader consultation with many and varied stakeholders. success is often measured in a much broader sense, requiring marketers to have a much wider set of skills.
what are the key things government agencies look for from their design agency?
the million dollar question. generally speaking, i find government agencies are risk averse, especially when it comes to things that may impact public perception. they look for credible agencies that can demonstrate capability, flexibility and a track record of delivery. what i hear most often is:
- a well-resourced team who can adapt to our changing needs.
- a good understanding of the challenges and scrutiny of working in the public sector.
- able to work collaboratively with our other partners and in-house teams.
- robust processes, reporting tools and disciplines that allow good communications, decision-making and transparency.
- good chemistry between the teams.
- values and actions that align with those important to us.
this last one is interesting and covers things like diversity and inclusiveness, wellbeing, a tikanga world view, collaboration, health and safety and many others.
how do government clients judge value?
if there’s one thing that i think applies to all my clients, i’d say it’s delivering the results you said you would.
it feels like procurement departments put a higher value on cost and risk management. whereas the marketing and communications teams themselves place more value on really good strategic and audience insights, engaging design, how easy you make it to work with you and how you help them manage their internal stakeholders and process. price is important for them too but it’s more about value for money, based on the results achieved, rather than hitting a certain price point.
how do you add value to your clients?
i look to add value by getting a really deep understanding of each client at both a professional and personal level. this means understanding what a government agency values, what’s important to them, how things get done, how decisions are made and how success is measured. by knowing this, i can spot opportunities to offer insights, suggest ideas and provide tools and support that’s right for them. stuff that’s valuable and tailored to them.
at a personal level, i work hard to build personal relationships. my clients are human, and like me, they want to know they are doing a good job, feel proud of their work and have a sense their efforts are recognised. i look for ways to help them feel exactly this and look good in front of their bosses and their peers. basically, i aim to add value by helping them achieve the things that are important to them as individuals.
can government work be creative?
many in the creative industry think they can’t be. i totally disagree. to me, creativity is about solving problems in ways that make personal and emotive connections with audiences. there are so many hugely creative projects that we’ve worked on with government clients that achieve this. off the top of my head: the 28th maori battalion website for ministry of culture and heritage. transpower’s office fit out. department of internal affairs wellbeing identity. the sport nz visual identity. the kāinga ora brand and many more.
what’s your advice to anyone working with government?
get to know your clients, respect their skills and knowledge and understand their aspirations. build relationships and help them manage the internal stakeholder processes and higher levels of accountability they operate under. do this well and they reward you with many meaningful, varied and highly creative projects.design, government, insight creative
What makes good client service?
It’s the strangest experience when you’re climbing Mt Ngauruhoe on your way to reach the most beautiful coned top, when every step you take makes you slide further backwards. Strangely, somehow you do reach the...
it’s the strangest experience when you’re climbing mt ngauruhoe on your way to reach the most beautiful coned top, when every step you take makes you slide further backwards. strangely, somehow you do reach the top. it’s a lot later in the day though and you’re tired and scratched all over, but what an amazing feeling to finally stand up and look around. few vistas compare, and an especially good feeling when you’re standing next to your newlywed wife and best mate to take in the expansive landscape. that was almost 30 years ago…
i've lost count of the number of times i have thought back to that moment. when i do think back i’m usually reflecting on where we’re at with a project. the stage where the client indicates their brand project is on hold, the marcomms project is changing direction, that digital project requires more (…), etc.
we recently had a high-profile marcomms project change its course. the project was slowed down whilst many aspects are being reconsidered. this is a tough time for one of our key contacts who has given the project a lot of their energy and is emotionally invested too. a phone call with the client, a chat that was reflective but also forward looking, proved to be a worthwhile opportunity to lend support. we agreed that, although the track had gotten a little more tricky, we’d find a way to continue our way to the top together.
the promise of success is pretty powerful, if you believe in it. often, we’re the ones who have the opportunity to motivate our clients, keep them going, support or guide them. it can be during these times that the client needs us most. and when we start climbing again, it somehow seems to get a little easier.partnering clients, supporting and motivating clients, the supporting role of creative agencies, keeping clients motivated
A Good Experience
What do clients want? It’s been 25 or so years that I’ve been, in some capacity, in front of clients. In fact, longer if I add the time I’ve been in front of customers: the lovely people that visited our...
what do clients want?
it’s been 25 or so years that i’ve been, in some capacity, in front of clients. in fact, longer if i add the time i’ve been in front of customers: the lovely people that visited our liquor shop back in holland. their needs were rarely a challenge. they would point to a bottle (jenever, whisky, beer, 7up, etc), followed by an exchange of money, and that was that.
occasionally a wine connoisseur would drop in – my mum loved these people since wines were her passion, her specialty – they described at length, and sometimes rather colourfully, the type of wine they were looking for.
they loved my mum. she’d talk with great insight and fluidly flick between dutch and french and german to articulate the wine’s properties, its background, etc., making the whole experience rather authentic for the connoisseur. we stocked good and great wines, and some were collectables with prices to match.
once a year, the regulars would be invited into our living room, literally at the other side of the shop’s till, for the first release of the beaujolais primeur or nouveau. we were the first ones in our home town every year to stock the new release (that was my dad’s thing – always wanting to be first with everything. something about differentiation). these were exciting social get togethers. mum and dad would be chatty, hand out cheese and bread with a glass of beaujoulais and in the company of ‘friends’ tipple a few afternoons away (incidentally, i’ve never seen them drunk. some of our customers yes, but not my mum and dad).
customers loved it, they felt very special.
"no one created the experience my parents offered, such was our brand."
you could get the wine in most liquor shops within a day or so of the release, but no one created the experience my parents offered, such was our brand.
working with a design agency now, the client doesn’t point to a product. they are much more like the wine connoisseur. like in my mum’s world, these people come to us because we are the specialists, they have a particular need not easily come by. what else do these clients want?
a rounded, authentic, savvy offering means a lot more to these clients than a clinical transactional exchange of service for money.
my mum was a good listener and took her time with customers. mum always let people finish what they had to say, used pauses for reflection and asked lots of questions to find out more about the customer’s likes and dislikes. being genuinely interested in people’s stories made the whole approach a lot easier.
mum was excellent at talking the customer’s ‘language’. she would pick up on people’s jargon and use it back to them in a respectful manner. so much so that wannabe connoisseurs (the odd wine dabbler deserving of an education) would be suitably advised in their own ‘language’, leaving a whole lot smarter, only to come back for more another day. she also managed to elevate conversations so it all felt a bit more special. she would use words like 'chique' (french for elegant) and kostbaar instead of prijzig (prijzig = costly, kostbaar = valuable), simply adding a bit of panache which reflected the wine on offer. you could say that she used her own tone of voice.
and mum was and is a gezellig mens (a cozy person, inviting, engaging, warm and appreciative - words fail to explain it properly), with a slightly dark wit that keeps you tuned in, in a good way.
what do clients want?
let’s rephrase. how do we make our clients feel when they come looking for what they want?
clients, design agency, service experience, insight creative
Angels and devils
' Angels and devils ' is how one of my clients organises her stakeholders. She’d prefer everyone to be an angel, a person that supports the cause, has bought into the process, actively engages....
she’d prefer everyone to be an angel, a person that supports the cause, has bought into the process, actively engages. these are the champions that make a brand project go a long way, smoothly. how does the saying go again? "you go faster alone but further together". enter the devil. you guessed it, the devil is the kind that goes faster alone (or nowhere at all). the devil tends to be a roadblock to new initiatives that break the routine, are different from bau, and given the opportunity, actively hinders the move forward, any move.
in my experience, devils don’t typically set out to work the furnaces. in fact, they often have relevant ideas, interesting observations, useful insights, and a surprising amount of energy to get things done. sadly, due to lack of support, direction and isolation the furnaces get stoked and the devil comes out.
devils have a lot of knowledge about their realm, how things work around here.
devils don’t like crowds and do love a little attention, to be taken seriously, listened to, and involved for their knowledge and experience.
devils are valuable stakeholders. devils can make the most fabulous angels. devils are worth spending a bit of time with. get to know them. offer support and be rewarded. the furnaces may continue to burn but with a soothing warmth rather than a charring heat.
and, who knows, you may uncover another angel.
Thank you for being late (Thomas L. Friedman)
I don’t like arriving late but what if, as Mr Friedman suggests in his book, it can create value. Being late, early in the process, can create time to reflect and, above all, clarity. Clarity we so often...
i don’t like arriving late but what if, as mr friedman suggests in his book, it can create value.
being late, early in the process, can create time to reflect and, above all, clarity. clarity we so often lack. clarity we don’t seek because there’s no time. clarity.
like you, i acutely feel this pressure to meet deadlines. and often the pressure to meet these deadlines has a canny way of overshadowing the opportunity.
there’ve been too many days when anxiety kicked in, when i just wanted to get things underway as soon as humanly possible, so not to lose any precious time. dragging those around me into the doing, somehow trying to get on with the job.
until i noticed someone much wiser than me ask a client a few well-chosen questions. at face value, asking these questions seemed to challenge the deadline (we were supposed to be all go, right!), but instead it helped to achieve three things:
1/ brought more clarity around what’s required and why
2/ made everyone feel more confident doing their task, and
3/ culminated in better results, delivered on time
on reflection, my best work comes from having sound client insights. a few good questions, suitably put, go a long way.
btw, friedman’s book is a good read if you'd like to find out more about how we must learn to be fast (innovative and quick to adapt), fair (prepared to help the casualties of change), and slow (adept at shutting out the noise and accessing their (our clients) deepest values) – all in the age of acceleration.meeting deadlines, slow down, clarity
When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails (H Jackson Brown Jr)
A little over 20 years ago I became a father of two pretty fabulous daughters. Every year, most days I got to figure out how to be a father. Books don’t tell you everything there is to know. My own parents...
a little over 20 years ago i became a father of two pretty fabulous daughters. every year, most days i got to figure out how to be a father. books don’t tell you everything there is to know. my own parents turned out to be right more often than i’ve given them credit for (something i figured out much later in life).
kids are kids are kids are kids. they learn to crawl just when you get used to them sitting up (all precious things soon move 6 feet off the floor). they learn to talk and before you know they talk back. let them play dress-ups in the garden and hey presto they’re dressed up and off to the ball. it seems one direction only for my daughters, called independence - all the way. i (alongside my amazing wife) figured the best i can do is to give them some good values, something to fall back on when i’m not around.
as the girls grew up and years flew passed i learned to adjust my sails, whilst staying on course, doing my best to instill these values. i think i did pretty ok, but let my girls be the better judge of that.
likewise, most days our clients look to resolve a challenge they have. i give them process, feed them information, let them run with an idea. but adjusting my sails again, i figured i could do better, to modify how i interact with them whenever necessary, to make the overall experience worth their while. we can’t presume that they will do as we would like them to do with their brand & comms once they’re out of sight, but sure hope that through their experience working with us they truly value what we’ve taught them.client guidance. instilling values
Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems. (Sun Tzu)
Some years ago, as I gradually moved into a client service role, my biggest anxiety became the fear of failing our clients and letting down the people I represent. Worried to be found out, to be not quite good...
some years ago, as i gradually moved into a client service role, my biggest anxiety became the fear of failing our clients and letting down the people i represent. worried to be found out, to be not quite good enough for the job.
i was working at another design agency at that time, where people talked about opportunities and were actively discouraged from seeing things as problems. it all just sounded like hollow words, until it became clear to me it was ‘attitude’ they were talking about.
dealing with clients became less tricky when i started to look at them as people just like me. using my insecurity helped me level with clients. turns out some of them were also a bit worried about being found out. others were smart and in areas very different from me. some were actually quite funny but not everyone around me thought they were funny (i get that all the time). best of all, opportunities to relate proved omnipresent. changing discussions to conversations, shifting business topics to personal. making these connections created stronger relationships where all of us became more open, until there was nothing left to be ‘found out’.opportunities
You have to think anyway, so why not think big? (Trump)
When I was a kid my dad told me that I don’t think. It made me very sad that he thought of me that way. Only much later in life did I work out that we were simply seeing and processing things differently and not...
when i was a kid my dad told me that i don’t think. it made me very sad that he thought of me that way. only much later in life did i work out that we were simply seeing and processing things differently and not very good at communicating to each other how we see things.
my dad was very analytical, good with numbers, magical with things that follow a logical process. he was a big thinker of many small things. you could see a big picture emerge once you’d added up all the little things he had in his mind. problem was extracting the little things. i seem to have flipped the other way. full of big ideas that often appear random and scattered, missing the detail. dad and i got there in the end though. standing on my own two feet in a foreign country did somehow bring our minds closer together.
most of our clients come for one of two things. they’re either looking for big ideas or need help delivering big ideas. i have come to appreciate that things go a lot smoother once i understand what people are looking for. if i always did what trump suggested i’d be in trouble.
thanks dad.think big, understanding
I want to understand you, I study your obscure language (Alexander Pushkin)
I think it’s about time that I say thanks to all of you who patiently endure my use of the English language. Using good English but not quite right has had some entertaining effects on people. ‘How goes...
i think it’s about time that i say thanks to all of you who patiently endure my use of the english language.
using good english but not quite right has had some entertaining effects on people. ‘how goes it now?’ ‘well pretty good’ was the reply, with a little smile in the corner of his eye. things were a bit more painful after i worked out that ‘let me take him apart when the time is right’ means something completely different from ‘take him aside’.
in the 25 years i’ve been in new zealand, i’ve met many guests like myself who’ve come from another place. the french and german variants, south african, ethiopian, canadian, belgium, italian, russian, a few from back home, and some whose lingo totally confuses me (is manchester classified as a country?).
what we all have in common, most of the time anyway, is that we want to be understood. the same goes for our clients. they also, sometimes, speak in what seems like a foreign tongue when meaning inadvertently takes on a different guise.
on behalf of these clients, i thank you for your patience and understanding (please keep it up).language, understanding