Agency Relationship Status: It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

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Marketing and advertising budgets took a hit last year, but as consumer confidence remains strong, businesses are increasing spend, which means new client-agency relationships are being created. Like any new relationship, client-agency connections can be complicated, but they don’t have to be. 

Your new agency relationship can blossom into a true partnership if you’re transparent and set clear expectations. As someone who’s worked on the client and agency side, I’ve seen firsthand how a partnership can lead to success. Like many situations in life, doing this right involves managing the people and numbers side of the equation with deftness and clarity.

Clarifying the Cast of Characters 

As your new agency relationship gets underway, it’s critical to discuss the activities of your existing in-house or agency teams and what is and is not working. That may sound basic, but sometimes people talk around the issue or make assumptions about what the new agency partner knows. Being upfront about it puts you and your agency partner on the same page for strategic collaboration. 

Also, be transparent about any office politics that may impact how work gets done. The agency partner may propose actions that involve a team outside your reporting structure. If your partner understands this, they can help you navigate any internal roadblocks and/or make the business case for a broader strategy internally in a way that contributes to everyone’s success. 

Another tip: Share the “why” in every conversation about a pivot, and expect the same in return. So, if there’s an internal decision to target a different customer segment, explain the motivation behind the pivot. That way, your agency partner will fully understand what’s happening and be in a better position to add value. 

Likewise, if your partner suggests a change — refocusing a social media campaign on a specific platform, for example — make sure you understand exactly why. This will not only ensure tighter collaboration between the client and agency teams, but you’ll also look more informed if asked about the shift when providing updates to your leadership group. 

It’s also a good idea to make sure the agency understands the full, often multifaceted scope of your role. People tend to wear a lot of hats these days. If, for example, you handle marketing and PR, but your agency interactions are limited to your marketing role, let them know you manage PR, too, even if it doesn’t seem directly relevant at first. The agency may be able to add more value when strategizing against the full scope of your oversight.

Also, when working with multiple agencies, be transparent with each agency and create a collaborative framework that multiple agencies can work within. Solicit feedback to make sure everyone is working as a team to serve you, the client, in the most effective way.

Establishing What Success Looks Like

Once everyone is on the same page about roles and collaboration streams, it’s critical to create a consensus on what success looks like ahead of any campaign launch. You’ll need to come to agreement on what the important metrics are, e.g., sales by channel, and you’ll also need to agree on how you will arrive at the single version of the truth for each metric. 

Oftentimes, this is an iterative process. As the client, you may have established analytics you routinely use, but if you’re expanding your activities, your current methods may not be sufficient to capture the full scope of your campaigns. The good news is that agencies have seen it all, and your agency partner can help you create frameworks to measure success — ideally before campaign launch.

This is also the right time to agree on formats for sharing data so that a mismatch won’t delay analysis and insights. You should also set a cadence for evaluating performance, keeping in mind that it may vary according to campaign type. For example, a media campaign launch typically needs a few weeks before reliable initial results are in. 

At the outset of the agency relationship, share as much historical data, performance metrics, and research as you can, and provide as much context and insight about the business opportunity as possible. Create timelines with the agency, and hold each other accountable so that your projects stay on track, with everyone focused on delivering results. 

Building a True Partnership

As the client, you deserve a productive relationship with your agency, one built on trust that delivers results. All clients deserve that, no matter the size of the business or budget. But you have a role to play in building that partnership, and it starts with being transparent with your new agency, with the people involved and the metrics you’ll use to evaluate performance. 

Agency relationships don’t have to be complicated. Make yours simple by creating an open, collaborative relationship that focuses on results. When you take these steps, your agency partner will be better able to drive results with relevant, impactful new ideas. They’ll also be more prepared to support the internal marketing team. That’s a true partnership.

Paul Her-Sturm is Senior Vice President, Digital Content and Strategy, at Hawthorne Advertising.