Being A Good Partner to Your Agency

February 16, 2018 Dax Callner

Being a Good Partner to Your Agency

You may have seen the news recently, as this writer did, that P&G  (one of the world’s biggest investors in marketing services) cut its advertising by $750 Million and reduced its agencies by half.

An interesting element of the story – and this is coming from P&G’s CFO – is that they will continue to spend on agencies that act as partners, with creative and strategic support.

 

Here’s a question:

Do your suppliers act like vendors or like partners? Which would you prefer?

If you want partners who are passionate about helping you achieve your business objectives…read on. We’re going to discuss how you can get better thinking; better work; more work out of your agency partners. 

Being A Good Partner to Your Agency

It all starts with a better understanding of how agencies and agency people think and operate. 

 

Step into Their Shoes 

Being a good partner to your agency starts with understanding agency people (if you’ve never been one). Let’s take a moment to step into agency people shoes. 

Why do people work at agencies instead of brands?  

Some people fall into it by accident and fall in love with it (like the writer of this did), others made the choice. Here are a few examples of what draws people to agencies and keeps them on that side of the relationship: 

  • An opportunity to express their creativity – as artists, writers and idea people 
  • A lot of variety – agency work can be highly unpredictable (and rarely boring) 
  • A genuine desire to overcome business challenges and drive client growth
  • A love of competition and “winning” – agencies are always focused on getting the new client or program, beating out its competitors for the business 

The converse of these benefits also provides insight into agency people psychology. Agency life can be creatively stifling; not the best outlet for the next Picasso. Agency work is very stressful – hard and fast deadlines, clients that decide to get elsewhere. And, like many businesses, agencies can be highly political and ego driven. 

Understanding your agency peeps enables you to approach the relationship from an empathetic place. And make no mistake – agency partnership is a relationship, with all of the challenges and wondrous opportunities that a strong relationship affords. 

The bottom line: The more you empathize with your agency folks, the more you can influence them and inspire them to create their best work for your brand.  

 

Understanding Agency Economics 

Hiring an agency is like buying a car from a dealer. They need to make money on the purchase and you need to feel like you got the best value for the price.   

Typically, agencies make money through: 

  • Hourly utilization of their people on paid client work (as there is profit margin built into their hourly rates) 
  • Markup on other services or products (media buys, 3rd party suppliers, etc.) 

If you are asking for concessions on hours or margins keep in mind that you are directly affecting agency revenue and that can impact the relationship. The result: you may not get the “A Team” you’d like, or you may be deprioritized vs. other clients. That’s not to suggest you shouldn’t negotiate, but an excellent team is worth more than a mediocre one, right? And you want to be a priority, right? 

Building a Better Business Brief 

You might think of your agency as on a “need to know” basis. But what do they need to know to be effective? As a good partner, the more they understand your business and the context that underpins your marketing challenges, the better they can develop strategic and creative approaches to grow your business. 

When you are kicking off a marketing initiative with your agency, the first step is to create a business brief that outlines the business challenge/opportunity at hand. Give them the background. Identify who you are trying to impact and why (the “why” is super important). 

 A business brief is also meant to be just that – brief. Remember that agency people are working on many client programs, not just yours, so keep things concise. Here’s a template you can use to get you started. The most important info: 

  • Business challenge you are hoping to address
  • Target audience  
  • Desired outcomes/success metrics 
  • Key milestones 
  • Budget (a range is fine) 

Use the business brief to define your business needs, and let the agency drive the workIt’s what they do best. It’s why you pay them.  

Your Agency is Not Just a Hired Gun 

Like any relationshipthe agency-brand partnership requires respect and ongoing maintenance to be healthy. Treat them the same way you would treat any partner, as an equal and as an important part of your team.  

What does that mean? Incorporate them into your internal team in such a way that they feel there is no delineation between your people and theirs. You can determine what that looks like for your organization, in terms of structure; communication; resolving issues and reporting, but keep the ethos of partnership in mind. 

Freedom of Creativity 

Freedom of creativity

If you want the best from your agency partner, allow them some freedom. We’ve all been in those brainstorm meetings where someone shoots down every idea as a bad one. That’s not the point of a brainstorm. So, do the same for your agency by encouraging creativity and give them room to imagine the impossible. It’s much easier to scale back than to get to big ideas from small ones. 

And while we joke in the agency world that a creative team never thinks they are given enough time, it is important to realize that it takes time to thoughtfully craft strategies, ideas and designs, and that, again, you are not the only work being worked on. 

 

Feedback is Vital 

A solid relationship thrives on ongoing and honest communication about the relationship itself. We’ve all been there…one partner doesn’t express a problem they are having and then it just festers, ultimately poisoning the relationship. 

Keeping the lines of communication open may mean meeting even when you don’t think you need to. Something may come of that brief discussion that makes a difference to the larger picture, so do invest the time, even if it’s to give earned praise! Which everyone loves getting. 

Also, ask for feedbackAgency people are worried about losing you as a client so they may not express an issue they are having. Open yourself to constructive dialog about how you can be a better partner to your agency. This kind of honest, open communication will benefit the relationship and the work. 

Your brand only benefits by being a better partner to your agency. You need them, and they need you to help them reach your business goals. You alone can inspire them to deliver their best for your brand. They want to give you their all, and you need to give yours, too. 

 

About the Author

Dax Callner

Dax Callner is the former Chief Strategy Officer of Events, leading a practice that specializes in physical, digital and social experience development, measurement & analytics.

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