Making Magic With Your Agency

For decades, the often-difficult-but-sometimes-magical dance between clients and agencies felt like the very centre of our industry. These days, less so.

Yet most of us still rely on our agency partners. And grumble about them. And struggle to find that elusive magic in the work we do together. Is there more we should be doing to make the most of this still-important relationship? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • According to Gartner, agency spend as a percentage of overall marketing budget has dipped slightly in recent years. But it still accounts for nearly a quarter of all outgoing dollars.

  • Setting yourself up for success starts early. Before the relationship even begins, ensure you’ve got a crystal clear picture of what you need to execute your overall strategy, what competencies you want to keep in-house and where agency support is needed.
  • Next, do your research to make sure the agencies you’re evaluating are a good fit for what you actually need. In today’s fractured landscape, this is harder than it used to be. But this handy guide from Lindsey Slaby will help you navigate your options.
  • Before you start the relationship, define a plan for how you’ll manage your agency. Key considerations here include clear roles, visibility into finances, reporting (in both directions) and agreeing on an approach for staying aligned on the overall strategy, plan and calendar.
  • Next comes the most important (and most overlooked) step: onboarding. There are dozens of articles online about onboarding from the agency’s perspective, but the onus here should really fall on the client. It takes work but it’s worth the effort. An agency that understands your business deeply—beyond the bounds of their remit—is much better placed to deliver outstanding work.
  • Once the relationship is underway, focus your attention on building mutual trust. 28% of respondents in a recent ANA survey felt that trust in client-agency relationships has declined in recent years. Bucking this trend takes work—and a commitment to honesty and transparency.

  • Steve Antoniewicz includes honesty among his five rules for successful client-agency relationships. We like the other four too, especially this one “You get what you give. Invest your time in the relationship. Client and agency need to become a team to deliver great work.”
  • Mark Pollard offers his own set of rules, also worth a read. Our favourite here: “Don’t brief and run. Don’t phone in a brief. Don’t brief and then disappear for two weeks.”
  • Another tip worth bearing in mind: try to resist the urge to cut agency fees as soon as your budget gets tight.
  • For the last word on the subject we turn to Bruno Gralpois, who literally wrote the book on this topic. Bruno believes that mutual accountability is the secret to a long, healthy relationship: “If both the client and agency are accountable to each other, and a real opportunity to build a long-term partnership emerges. Then—and only then—can loyalty truly flourish, and tangible value be realized.”
Issue #105
Nov 17, 2019

Further Reading