Main Content

How to set your creative work apart? Commercial awareness is the key

In the recently launched 2023 What Client’s Think report, it was clear that in a sea of seemingly endless data and a cultural context of rapid change, the most sought after skill clients are looking for in the agencies they work with is creativity aligned with commercial awareness.

In the words of the report’s author Jonathan Kirk: “For clients, more commercial awareness equals more relevance, more credibility, and more chance of selling your ideas to the wider organisation.”

88% of clients stated that the winning agency demonstrated greater understanding of the client’s brand, market and audiences.*


And yet, the verdict from the report was that clients feel creativity and commercial awareness is a rare combination and one that is hard to find in equal measure.

The winners of the DBA’s Design Effectiveness Awards and DBA members who work with embedded effectiveness practices however, demonstrate exactly this alchemic mix that opens the door to both creative magic and commercial success. So how do they do it?

The answer is in the approach they take to understanding the business challenge the client is facing in order to inform the creative decisions that are made; bolstering the client’s confidence in the risks they may be asking them to take.

82% of clients consider themselves to be risk averse. These are the same clients that talk about the need for brand differentiation and innovation, but they want it to be accompanied by a strong rationale and convincing business case.*


Put in the up-front work to really understand the environment your client is working within, and demonstrate your knowledge of the context within which they need to see results, and you’ll build faith in the creative route you propose.

But what does understanding their environment look like in practice? Simply put, it’s about knowing what a good outcome looks like for them in business terms.

What do they need your design solution to help them do? What do good business results usually need to look like for them internally? And what do their competitors or comparable organisations achieve in their market? Why have they enlisted your expertise – to solve what problem? And how can you help them to be clear on what the opportunities for transformation truly are? Let this context inform the creative brief, inspire the creative team and build the client’s confidence in the chosen route.

After all, the report reveals that 63% of clients prefer to be presented with just one creative route rather than the option of three*. So demonstrating that your creative ideas are born out of sound commercial thinking is key. As Jonathan observes, it’s about “having enough commercial awareness to put together a strong business case for what you’re recommending, and giving clients enough so that they can argue what you’re recommending internally.”

And far from killing the creative with process or data, you’ll instead be building structures which allow room for creative freedom and confidence in the skill and acumen of your design team, as they lead the way to inspired solutions.

*What Clients Think report, 2023

The DBA’s Strategy and Business Director, Sally Lukins, helps DBA members to understand how to embed and measure effectiveness in their work. Book a consultation with Sally today, by emailing Free for DBA members.

Join us for the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards’ winners announcement.

Online and free to attend on 29 June at 3.30pm BST. 


Sit back as we take you on a 90-minute journey into the winning stories of effective design.


We promise you an online event packed full of fascinating insights that will inspire and surprise you. We’ll dig under the surface of this year’s winners, explore the wide range of impacts design has delivered and celebrate the impressive ways design has made a difference as our winners find out if they’ve won Gold, Silver or Bronze. Register for free here.


We use cookies to help improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our use of cookies.