Smashing Spotlight: Patrick Cousans, Executive Director, Client Engagement

Ever wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Patrick Cousans, Executive Director, Client Engagement, to talk shop, the differentiation between account management, engagement management, and project management, the four questions he always asks a client when embarking on a new project, and which little restaurant on San Juan Island ended up serving him the best meal of his life.


You’ve been at smashing for 11+ years. What significant changes have you seen in the market, as well as within the agency?

I’ve been here to witness the evolution of the smartphone and how it’s become an essential lifestyle device for many people. Designing and developing user experiences with the advantages/limitations for phones has become an integral part of business.

For Smashing, user-centric design has become a true focal point in tandem with research and data-driven product design. It’s revolutionized thinking to ensure products, features, and engagement are on point and will be successful in the market.


What is the difference between account management, engagement management, and project management?

They are different facets of the coordinated business strategy. They are interdependent and should blend together. A lot of the industry uses the same terminology, but with different meanings. Account management sometimes includes Engagement, depending on the organization. The same is true for Project Management. We differentiate it this way: day-to-day project progress is handled by our Program Management team under Lisa Dawson, who does a masterful job. Engagement is responsible for the relationships with our clients and making sure both the client and Smashing are meeting expectations and successfully achieving business goals. We are an escalation point, both internally and externally, as well. So, we’re somewhat of an industry hybrid between Account Management and purely Engagement.


What is your philosophy on account management?

Be solution-oriented, first and foremost. My position, as I see it, is to help our partners succeed, even if it’s unrelated to the projects at hand. Understanding when and how businesses need help requires asking lots of questions and careful, diligent listening.

If you listen closely enough, you can map their challenges and expectations, and start crafting ways to help them. It also humanizes a business relationship and makes working together easier.


As a super fan of Peanuts, what character do you most identify with?

Linus. He is the reserved philosopher of the group. He’s thoughtful and approaches situations (mostly) pragmatically – the Great Pumpkin, excepted, of course.


How do you help pivot a project when you know the direction is not in the client’s best interest, yet they still want to move forward?

It’s often challenging because of unknown factors; what we don’t know from their side (e.g., upstream pressures, investor requests, risk aversion) and what they may not understand from ours (e.g., data points, experience). Reinforcing a collaborative working partnership rather than a “right or wrong” mentality can often help open minds to a better understanding, especially when the focus is on the value proposition and what problem we’re trying to solve.


What are the top 5 places you’d like to travel to that you haven’t been to yet?
  1. Prague
  2. St. Petersburg
  3. Kagoshima, Japan 
  4. The Orkney Islands, Scotland 
  5. The Faroe Islands


What is the best career advice you’ve ever gotten or given?

Love what you do. Ask yourself: “Would I do this job for free?” You have to be passionate about what you’re doing for a substantial part of most days of each week. At that point, being paid is a bonus, because the paycheck becomes an assumption pretty quickly. When you wake up in the morning, you have to be excited about the opportunity each day brings.


You collect old coins. If you could get your hands on a one single coin, which one would it be?

It’s not really rarity that I find interesting. Some coins capture seminal moments in time – a change of rulers, an event or pronouncement that’s important. Sometimes it’s an asterisk or side note in history. I have a 20-franc coin minted in 1815, when Napoleon escaped from Elba, that was only struck until he was defeated at Waterloo – 100 days. It’s not really that valuable, but it’s an interesting footnote to the history it represents.


Best meal you’ve ever had? Where and why?

It depends how hungry I was at the time! 😀 Seriously, the best meal I ever had was at a small, out of the way restaurant –  Duck Soup Inn on San Juan Island. I think because it was so unexpectedly extraordinary, unlike many other places that have terrific reputations and so one’s expectations are raised. The meal – from being seated to leaving, was perfect. A close second is Grammercy Tavern in New York. The food and atmosphere are amazing.


What questions do you initially ask when you start to work with a new client?
  • “What’s the motivation behind this work that you’re asking us to do?”
  • “Do you have a clear value proposition defined for the work?”
  • “Have you done research on the customers (internal and external) for the work?
  • “What does success look like to you and your team? How do you measure it?”


By now it’s clear you’re a bit of a history buff, further supported by the fact that you take trips such as walking the duration of Hadrian’s Wall in England. If you could pull a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure move and find yourself in another time period to observe, when would it be?

1066 in England. It’s a fascinating tableau over one year that directly changed the course of history for England, France, and Denmark. If events transpired differently that year, the world would be a very different place now. We may have a different language, different values, and events since then would have unfolded quite differently, in all likelihood.


And, last but not least, how do you measure success with a client?

In a number of ways. First, how they themselves measure the success of any initiative. If they believe they are successful – by whichever metrics guide them – then we’re largely there. If we feel good about the work we’re doing and feel it meets our own standards, then it’s even better.

Overall, if we’ve built a trusted, transparent relationship with a client, we feel like we’re a success.

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