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Is Formality Dead? The Debate on a More Casual Client Engagement

Published on Tuesday, June 27, 2023

I started in digital marketing in 2010 (wait, was digital marketing even a thing then?!) and it’s wild to think of the evolutions that even ten years can bring. At one of my first agencies, we were still passing around pouches, run by traffic managers! Everything was process-oriented and there was a formula for when, where and how to initiate a client conversation. But in this new-ish world of virtual collaboration and work, we’ve noticed a shift in how clients prefer to interact and receive information from their marketing partners. It’s beginning to revolutionize the way we work across teams and organizations. In theory, the rapid de-formalizing of an historically formal field is taking place by the day. In practice, we’re collaborating in various mediums, being more transparent and bringing work to the table that aligns to client expectations. And, we’re getting there faster with less frustration.

Formal vs casual client engagement

Some industry members think formal communication is unnecessary and can even hurt productivity and creativity. Others would flatline if an account team brought a bulleted list and sketches to a concept review. So, is it okay to be less formal in client-agency partnerships or are we to continue to be buttoned up?

Well, it depends. Every partnership is different, and it really comes down to the team members involved. While some partnerships might work better in a casual environment, others might need a more formal approach. The key? Know your clients’ preferences.

Some in favor of a more casual client relationship recognize it can make it easier to be creative. If there are lots of rules and protocols to follow, it can be tough to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. Also, if communications are too formal, it can feel disconnected, which can make it harder to build a strong working relationship. Here are some tools and methods we’ve put into place to support a more casual approach:


Slack channels

Set this up for key account team members (client-facing, of course) and the client stakeholders.



Where it makes sense, send the presentation or ideation document to the client ahead of time. This only works when there is little explanation needed. Then, during the meeting, the client is ready with feedback and feels prepared.



This gets a little hairy because it’s more one-on-one and removes visibility from the full team as to conversations. However, if you have a good client relationship and they’ve indicated they’re on board with texting, this method can keep projects rolling.


On the other hand, some professionals think that being formal is still important. Formal communication can help people know what’s expected of them, which can prevent misunderstandings. And when people are formal, it can show that they respect each other and take their work seriously. That can be really important when a project is high-stakes.



In the end, it’s up to each partnership to decide what’s best. If creativity and working together closely are really important, then it might be better to keep things casual. But if a project needs a lot of precision and professionalism, it might be better to be more formal.

It’s worth remembering that formality doesn’t have to mean being strict and rule-bound. There are lots of ways to be formal and still encourage creativity and collaboration. On the flip side, being casual doesn’t mean forgetting etiquette and processes.

It’s not always bad to be less formal in client-agency partnerships. But each partnership is unique, and people should think about what’s best for their situation. A balance between formality and informality can help create a productive and successful partnership.


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rachel dicke
Rachel Dicke
Director of Client Success