How to do ‘collabs’

Foreword / caveat:

Although Ed Sheeran’s yet to be in my speed dial list, I felt it was ok to nick the term ‘collab’ in this case as a lot of us at Spark claim to be amateur musicians, illustrators or ‘artists’…

We use the term ‘collaboration’ so much in this industry that it tends to become wallpaper. Trusted advisors who collaborate with clients, work in partnership blah di blah di blah. But what does it mean and how do you do it?

I’ve worked at tons of agencies and with multiple clients both large and small, established and brand new. I know a little bit about what makes clients tick, what bugs them, how to create a great brand and communicate with customers. I’m going to say something controversial though.


(first time anyway)

That’s it, I said it. That’s because I only have one perspective; one person’s knowledge and experience. Think of all the conversations happening, across dimensions, about this subject I’m writing about / talking / working on.

So, working in an agency of expert thinkers and doers, sharing inner thoughts and workings out and asking for as much input as possible is how I make sure I’m as right as I can possibly be when advising clients. But, even then, I don’t have the clients’ amazing direct perspective of their customers, internal audience, organisation and challenges, so working closely with them too is essential.

The world is changing: Clients and their wider organisations are having to prove returns on everything – and yes I don’t only mean marketing, I mean brand investment too. There is often pressure for success to look like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but with multiple channels to consider, politics and economic changes that pot of gold is more difficult to reach than ever before. So, getting the most out of people, and time, is key.

So a major question springing to mind might be, ‘doesn’t all that collaboration take a heck of a long time’? Talking to people, getting different perspectives, scrapping perfectly good thinking and questioning decisions? Not at Spark. With everyone happy to give their time, technology and a motivation to get shiz done, it doesn’t have to take a long time at all. It just needs a little planning, willing and a working shared space.

A few tips of mine for kick-ass collaborating.


What do they believe in?

What are their values?

What is their end goal?

What are they terrified of?

What’s their dog’s name?


We love a workshop here at Spark. We have a great space for it, and what we think is a good formula, but we’re developing them all the time based upon the end goal. And, we aren’t scared to ask the difficult questions about company politics, whether you’re really as good as you think you are or what makes you rock back and forth in the dark with worry. Sharing is good.


We have our team plus an innovation and insight agency, illustrator, photographer and social media marketing company here working with us at Spark Towers all in a pretty intimate shared space AKA Spark Space – amazing for collaborating. But it’s essential to have your own room for thinking. If all the rooms are being used, Koffee Pot is my extended agency, nothing to do with the salt beef bagel.


Some clients LOVE to input / give their opinion, get you involved with their in-house team (which we love) and be part of a brainstorm – but some clients just want answers / recommendations giving to them. Recommend the best process but also find out how the client wants to work and honour that. We always ask if we can plug in with in-house teams as they’re often the ones who will be implementing our ideas, but if they say no, that’s cool too.


Friday mornings, 10am, cold, well fed and standing is utopia for collaborations / brainstorms. But in any case, time or space, stand up – it’s better for the brain and stops people sighing / moving about in their chair, shortens chit chat and gets straight to it (mainly so you can be efficient, get shiz done and sit down again as soon as possible).

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE MONEY (or something to offer in return)

We’re all in business here after all. So make sure there’s budget in the job or do a favour for a favour. In my experience, though, people are amazing and as I write this on National Kindness Day I thank every one of our collaborators for you time and we couldn’t do it without you. I’m here any time to offer my humble opinion if anyone wants it.