Remote Brand Workshopping

As a strategist, brand workshops are integral to our jobs — whether as a discreet agency offering, a component of a new business pitch, or as part of a new client engagement. We recently had the good fortune of on-boarding a new client and started to make plans to kick off an in-person brand workshop. And then we went into shelter-in-place.

But the show goes on, and we successfully planned, conducted, and delivered a brand session that we're pretty proud of. Here are some of the learnings from it, that we figure could be useful to others planning the same.

Note: This isn't about workshopping platforms, and there are plenty of other articles that get into that. We just used Zoom to keep things simple.

Agency × Client Collaboration is everything

Unlike in-person sessions where attendees are expected to just show up with nothing more than a willingness to play along, virtual sessions need a ton more collaboration between the agency and brand team. This is because they require a committed facilitator on both sides of the fence. While we, the agency, facilitated the what and the how, our lead client facilitated the who and the when. And together, we collaborated on the most important component — the why, so that we were in absolute lockstep going into the workshop.

Pre-video > Pre-read

Here's the thing — brand workshops are fun. Mandatory Zoom meetings are not. Also, pre-reads only make them even more tedious. To lay the groundwork for a successful session with the right tone and energy, we recorded a simple 5-minute video as a pre-watch to all attendees. It detailed the vision and ambition of the session, a brief overview of the approach we would be taking, and ended with a simple homework assignment, so we could capture (and kick off the session with) top-of-mind sentiments from those closest to the brand day-in and day-out.

Shorter Sprints, Spread Out.

It's important to recognize that with remote workshopping, you're up against screen-time fatigue and all kinds of WFH realities. Rather than forcing a single-day marathon approach, chunking down the session to 1-2 hour blocks over 2-3 days, is a more realistic approach to maintaining momentum.

Video presence preferred (Tough Love Edition)

When it comes to brand workshops, video presence has an undeniable impact on quality of participation. We want all voices to be heard and that's hard to ensure when some are more visibly present than others. Of course we recognize that life happens, but it is important to set expectations early on the importance of on-cam presence as much as possible.

A few other learnings:

  • Breakout sessions on Zoom are a blast, if you haven't tried them. You get to dispatch people into rooms, and then swiftly summon them back. The host can also broadcast messages to everyone and join separate rooms to check in on progress.
  • Use shared docs and shared slides where possible. Make things easier on yourself with collaboration tools so you have all team exercises consolidated in one place. You'll thank yourself later when you're toiling over that post-workshop report.
  • Hire a great moderator, because they can't trust the DJ if the DJ sucks. With remote workshops, you need a lead moderator, team breakout facilitators, and a technical facilitator for all that dispatching and summoning we talked about earlier. As strategists, we often try to double up and play multiple roles in a session, only for it to backfire. So contract someone great for the job and you won't be disappointed.

Remote workshopping for us was definitely more work than the traditional in-person format, but we’re thrilled that we were able to maintain the quality of feedback and insight that we were hoping for. It certainly takes some getting used to, but will be an important skill to have in this new normal. Good luck to all of you out there. You got this.

Neeti Newaskar is a Group Strategy Director at Camp + King, recently recognized as AdAge Small Agency of the Year (Silver). She launched her career in Singapore, and has since traveled coast‑to-coast working for independent agencies like Brunner Inc., Venables Bell & Partners, and Evolution Bureau.