When first onboarding with an agency, it seems unlikely that you’ll come up across any issues as everything seems so straightforward.
Six months in however, you can often be faced with many new and unexpected challenges. Potential new company objectives, a required strategy shift or a change of internal management can all create difficult problems to solve together. Building and maintaining a good working relationship between client and agency is a major factor in the effective outcome of your campaigns and projects.
As someone who has owned a small business, worked in-house and agency side, I have been part of many different working situations, with a wide range of contrasting personalities. This has shown me some clear and fundamental rules to ensure a you have a smooth and positive agency/client relationship.
I’ve experienced both success and failure (although, failure isn’t a total failure if learning is taken from it) and in this post I’ll be taking you through some of the observations I have made through my experience and providing my top tips for creating a great client/agency relationship.
So here we are, my 5 tips for getting the best out of your agency:
1. Help Them Help You
Any agency is focused on results and a positive outcome from a working relationship and they’ll do everything they can to help you achieve what you’ve set out to achieve.
As such, educating them on the deeper context of your brand, through regular communication and knowledge sharing is one of the best ways for you to maximise on the results you can get out of your agency.
Brand guidelines, Tone of Voice documents, Content Guides, Brand Playbooks – the more documents like this you can provide to your agency the better. If you don’t have any, it might be a wise idea to create these internally before taking on an agency. Your agency will be able to provide you direction based on everything they know, and the more they know, the more specific (and hopefully accurate!) the advice you’ll get.
The same also applies to any other projects or campaigns that you have going on. Even if you’re agency isn’t directly involved, tell them. For example, if you have a national PR campaign going live in 3 week’s time with a key commercial objective, tell them. Even if it seems unconnected to what your agency is employed to do, there’s always an opportunity for them to go the extra mile to help you get the absolute best out of that PR campaign. Without that kind of information, being shared no extra wins can be made or extra insight gained to excel other areas of the business. Sharing is caring!
2. Piss-Poor Preparation Leads to Piss-Poor Performance
It’s a term I’ve held dear from my days as a strength and conditioning coach, but it’s relevant in any industry. If you don’t brainstorm, plan, research, test and evaluate your campaign choices with qualitative and quantative data, you won’t achieve the results you expect to get. At the very least, you’re going to miss crucial and possibly unique things you could have done to set yourself apart in a competitive market. It’s an area that your agency can help you with, so make sure you utilise them if necessary.
By not preparing and planning, the likelihood is you’ll waste time and money in the production of a campaign. This will then affect the results your agency are able to help you achieve, it’s that simple. Then, when stakeholders come knocking for a breakdown of where that money has gone, panic and blame culture often creeps in. If you’ve done your due diligence by planning and testing, and then acted on the results to justify agency spend, you can’t be criticised later down the line.
Think of it like building a house.
You wouldn’t begin to build without an initial architecture design, without laying out blueprints of measured and approved plans, then digging the right foundations for the house you’re going to build, before getting the construction company on site. So, why ignore that same process with something that’s digital?
3. Treat Your Agency Like an Extension of Your Team
Often, if you’ve chosen to work with an agency, they’ll have been brought on to give new direction, to fill skills gaps or due to a lack of internal resourcing. That’s why their time isn’t best used for you to pass your own work to.
Delegating work to your Account Manager to perform tasks that you can do yourself is only moving important paid time away from your project.
If you are struggling with your own workload, be confident enough to take it to your own manager and explain how this could have a knock-on affect with the agency’s productivity.
Easier said than done I know, but if they are worth their salt, they will help you to find a solution that maximises the money they are spending and everyone’s time.
In short, rather than bogging them down with menial admin tasks, get your agency focused on the work that matters.
If You’re Working with More Than One Agency, Introduce Each Other!
A great recent example of this was when a client of ours brought together all the agencies that they worked with for a partner day. Everyone met one another and were invited to give both positive and negative feedback as well as providing ideas toward around a potential big campaign idea that the client had.
Because we were in a safe and unbiased space, we were able to tell them things that we felt wouldn’t work. The client took these on board and it helped them to refine the idea to a much finer detail. We also all worked together to come up with a set of rules and values to all co-exist within while working together.
Bit hippy? Yes. Useful? Absolutely.
It informed all the agencies about the brand’s specific persona even more, and many face to face inter-agency relationships were formed which the client will in no doubt reap the benefit of in the future. Also, who doesn’t like getting out of the office and going out for bowling and drinks!?
Remember You Are Working Towards a Common Goal, Work with the Grain Not Against it.
Road blocks and change of direction are normal in life, we get that you might not have seen something coming and it now totally changes your current strategy. As an agency we can adapt quickly to new information with good communication and open minds. Finding a fast solution together works best when there’s a positive working environment, and egos and blame stay out of it.
Remember, agencies enjoy problem solving!
4. Communication is KEY
Communicate Well Within Your Own Company & Cut Down Meeting Time
An agencies time is best used on specialist advice, research and work, not chasing and re-briefing your own team for you.
We worked with an international brand who had so many different sections and departments, none of which communicated between themselves to the level that was necessary. We ended up hemorrhaging time from the project into doing the communication and internal troubleshooting for them, repeating ourselves between teams and waiting on huge tailbacks. The outcome was that they ended up having to pay extra for that time to get the rest of the project done. All of which could have been avoided with proper internal briefing meetings.
Take control of internal discussions by organising meetings to educate the wider team and brief them on the nuances about the projects.
Larger companies seem to find this the hardest, but it doesn’t need to be the case when someone step up and facilitate the communication.
Ten Heads are Better Than One
Bouncing ideas off different people is so key to creativity and innovation (see above). But you must plan and decide on clear working processes, who’s in charge of communication, stages of review and completing actions. This will maximise on effective communication and will stop everyone involved putting their two pence in, which can confuse the issue and cause tailbacks with workflow. Which brings me onto my next point..
Use Time Saving Communication and Project Management Platforms.
NO ONE is above missing threads in long email chains. That’s why we use tools like Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Instagantt, Slack & Google Sheet Trackers as they remove the need for awkward reminders such as “please can you respond to my email from Friday…”, and keeps the focus purely on actions and outcomes.
Everyone forgets things at times and neither agency or client is exempt, so using communication and project management platforms can only help to keep relationships working smoothly.
We were working on a huge client campaign where we were responsible for ALL of the new content and existing content maintenance on an international website. Through assigning tasks via Asana we were able to effectively keep track of ongoing content work linked to lines in a tracker. It meant agency team members had all the information they needed in one place to pick up easily, and it was much more efficient than emailing each other endless notes, images and documents relating to over 300 open lines in a tracker.
My personal favourite (and workweek saviour) is Trello. The easiest way to set it up is with 4 columns on a project board. Name them: To Do, Doing, Done and Blocked/On Hold. You can create tasks and then drag and drop them across the columns until you have a complete project. Set shared visibility for your team to the project board so everyone’s informed and up to date on project progress and can easily communicate.
5. Manage Expectations in a Considerate Way – We’re All Human
Be Constructive with Negative Feedback
Sometimes things don’t go to plan. So if something happens and you need to discuss an issue with your agency, be honest. Tell them how you would have preferred they handled something or what you feel is missing from a document that you needed to see.
It shouldn’t be taken personally if it’s said constructively.
Simply complaining about something doesn’t help them to fix the issue or find the best solution. We aren’t mindreaders, and an agency’s time is expensive, so tell them what your expectations are/were and they will always be grateful for the straight talk.
Don’t Let Personal Opinions Override Experience and Facts.
An agency is brought on for their expertise in a selected area. They will give you their opinion on what is best for you in their educated opinion. It’s always fine to disagree if you feel there’s reason to, and then mutually brainstorm a comprise which works for both parties.
However, if you want to be guided by an agency but then forever ignore their advice and reject their opinions because you feel you know what’s best for the company internally, then an in-house team is probably better suited.
Kindness and Thankyou’s Go a Long Way.
What you may not know from not being in the same building, is that your agency contact has just worked through their entire lunchbreak or later in the evening to get something urgent over to you.
It’s worth remembering that that person may also be getting equal pressure from another client to get something urgent to them over that day as well, so work with your agency to give them the best chance to get something Ad Hoc over to you as quickly as possible.
We’re all human and regardless of being client or agency side, being told that someone is grateful for your efforts drastically makes that task easier to do, increases job satisfaction and having a GOOD day. After all, you never know what someone is going through personally, so be fair, but always kind.
So there you are, my top 5 tips to ensure you get the best out of your agency and create the best possible relationship. What do you think? Is there anything else that can contribute towards a great agency/client relationship? Feel free to let me know in the comments below, tweet us @Sitevisibility or send me a mail.
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