Client or Agency: What can we do to make our relationship run smoother?

In The Digital Marketing Blog by Dave0 Comments

Amongst friends I often get asked what’s better, working client side or agency side. The truth is that it’s usually six of one and half a dozen of the other. Each has their positives and negatives. As just one example, getting work and ideas signed off is much easier and quicker when working client side but working for an agency tends to give you much more variety in what you do and the work you undertake day to day.

I’m certainly not the only person who’s experienced in working on both sides of the coin but it still got me to thinking about the things we can all do to make the relationship as smooth and profitable as possible. All of us are, to use a vomit-inducing management term, pulling in the same direction after all. (I’ve even taken the liberty of including a cliché, business-focussed stock photo to reinforce my point)

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How Can We Make the Relationship Between Client and Agency Better?

The first thing to be addressed is where the differences lie and for all parties to have a good understanding of these. We can then start to modify our methods of working to ensure that these problems can be overcome.

The Sign-off Process

Compared to working in-house, this is one of the most infuriating aspects of working in an agency.

To use an example piece of content – it would be written, proofed and signed off internally and then sent to the main point of contact. They likely review it before sending it to the relevant manager to provide sign off – a process that at best could take a couple of hours or at worst a few days. When I was working client side, this would involve an email confirmation or a walk over to the relevant person’s desk and a verbal yes. It’s easy to see how clients can get annoyed with agencies here.

Processes like these exist for a reason but can be simplified. Agencies should be provided with the contact details of the person with final sign off to remove a step and clients should be aware of the need for quick sign off. Similarly, if the agency knows the process takes a while, plans should be amended to ensure that the deadlines are moved a few days forward – preventing a mad rush last thing on a Friday when we all want to go home.

The Need to be Reactive

In my opinion, this is one of the areas where an in-house marketing team has a massive advantage over an agency. An opportunity comes up and the company needs to jump on it quickly – easily done internally. In an agency, we have budgets, plans, schedules and of course other clients that can slow our response to an emerging situation – and that’s before we encounter the aforementioned sign-off.

In this instance, and my management won’t like me for saying this, it’s often easier for the client to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done themselves. By all means, phone your agency for advice and guidance if you need it though.

With some clients here at SiteVisibility we have found a happy medium where we leave a portion of the budget aside for ad-hoc and reactive. However, we are only able to do this if we satisfy the next point…

An Agency Will Struggle to Know Your Brand as Well as You

Caveat: at least to begin with.

From an agency perspective, we work with a number of brands and companies who all have their own tone of voice and messaging guidelines. We undertake brand immersions with all new clients and this really helps. However, it takes time and the best approach is for all parties to be open from the outset. This means that the agency should ask when they’re not sure about something and the client should be willing to provide constructive feedback where required.

From personal experience, it makes a huge difference when our clients’ marketing teams accept us as part of their extended team. It aids communication and most importantly, allows us to tailor our service to the clients’ needs. It’s also up to the agency and the team working on the account to make the utmost effort to understand the brand. Read all marketing material that’s available, ask questions where possible and at the very least follow all the social media accounts.

As mentioned earlier, we have a number of brands who we are at the stage with that we just ‘get’. Once the client and agency reach that point, things are much simpler for all concerned.

Understand Each Other’s Priorities

This is paramount; any miscommunication from either party can lead to major problems. A good kick off process and regular updates can alleviate many of these choking points and prevent a small problem becoming a much bigger one. Here’s a hypothetical situation:

  1. The agency and client have agreed a Q1 target of improving organic traffic by XX%
  2. The agency identifies a number of key technical problems on the client website and writes up a recommendation document in order to improve these and increase traffic.
  3. Recommendations document enters a development queue and is expected to be ready in two months.
  4. It’s the end of Q1 and the agency’s recommendations haven’t been implemented – the target’s not been hit.
  5. Client is disappointed and questions their spend. Agency pushes back and argues that implementations haven’t been made and can’t be held fully responsible.

I’m sure this scenario or a variant of it is familiar to many who’ve worked in marketing but it can be avoided. The first thing to do is ensure that the agency and the client are completely clear on the direction and the type of work that will be carried out in the campaign from the start.

It may be the case that the client has a major development that’s a priority or their internal structure doesn’t allow for quick deployment of developments. Either way, if all parties are aware of this, alternative campaigns can be devised and agreed on to achieve results.

Be Realistic in Expectations

It’s important that both sides are realistic in their expectations and what can be reasonably delivered. I feel this is probably where the majority of problems stem from; either agencies promising too much, or a client expecting too much.

For clients, if an agency is promising you top spot in the SERPs for ‘holidays in Spain’ on a modest budget or 50 links from a poor infographic then they’re not likely to be able to deliver (and perhaps should give consideration to their choice of tactics!). Similarly, the agency has a responsibility to deliver on their promises. Often, a company approaches an agency because they have identified a skills shortage in their own team. The agency either has a responsibility to effectively fill that gap or not accept the business. My experience working both sides of the industry has lead me to realise that differing expectations is one of the main reasons for business relationships breaking down.

What Have we Learnt?

If you’ve made it through this then I applaud you and you’ve probably realised that the key here is communication. Good communication coupled with honesty from both sides can ensure that virtually all problems are surmountable. Although I’ve picked a handful of problems in this post, there are many more and all can be fixed by communication.

Clients and agencies that communicate well will nearly always go on to have great and profitable business relationships.

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