Column: How to have a happy agency marriage
Although agencies are moving toward integrated models to better deliver modern marketing solutions that include everything from PR to digital to social to content and data and analytics, many clients don’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket. Many are moving to multi-agency models and with that comes the expectation that we, the said agencies, will all get along.
Easier said than done.
In my role, I’m often asked how to make this structure work for clients, and the reality is there is no silver bullet response. When bringing two competitors into a room and telling them to play nice, it’s like watching two boxers size each other up before the big fight.
Agency collaboration has to be approached like any other relationship. It comes down to how hard both parties are willing to work to make it successful. Like any relationship, if you listen and treat each other with respect, kindness and integrity, the result is more often positive than not.
Over the years at my agency, we have garnered a number of best practices for ensuring seamless collaboration, both among our holding company partners and outside agencies.
Clients should set the boundaries
In order for competitive agencies to play nicely in the client’s sandbox, there needs to be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities stated at the outset of the relationship. There should be nothing left to interpretation. Everyone must know whose is the ultimate throat to choke on any given brand assignment. If there are overlapping disciplines between agencies (like, say, social media), this can create a power struggle.
If the roles and the integrity of the partnership are clear and respectfully upheld, the agencies can feel comfortable that their collaboration won’t lead to a compromised position or a potential vulnerability that could lead to a loss of future business.
The elimination of budget jockeying also allows the teams to focus exclusively on bringing the best work to market and working together around the clients needs. It can eliminate silos, duplication and multiple agendas.
And remember: all this isn’t just reserved for the suits. If there is more than one perceived leader for any creative assignment, chaos can quickly ensue.
“Always On” Communication
Facilitating information flow across partner agencies keeps everyone on the same page. Weekly status meetings, daily “hot lists” and other process management tools to keep everyone informed and up to speed on issues and alignment.
We have found great success in hosting quarterly offsite summits that include all the partner agencies. During these summits, we share the latest work, learnings, discuss client projects and also have open and transparent dialogue about how we can collectively support each other in understanding the unique nuances of what’s working/not working. This is a relationship-building tool that fosters a great deal of trust, transparency and partnership.
We must, of course, acknowledge digital tools such as Google Hangouts, Group Chat, Basecamp and WireDrive that maintain a seamless workflow. But, ultimately, the most effective way to communicate is through human dialogue. Quite simply, we encourage people to pick up the phone or grab a coffee.
Transparent and ego-free cultures
I’m sure you’re all shocked that egos in advertising sometimes get in the way of success, but this is often where agency relationships fall apart first. The notion of ego-free agencies seems like an oxymoron, but if everyone leaves their ego at the door and stops trying to one-up each other, great things can happen.
It is important that – from the top down – the agency business leaders set the example for collaboration with their partners. They must be open to inclusion, sharing and fostering a team approach. The message they need to convey is simple: we are not competitors when working on this shared client; we are partners.
If something isn’t working, this should be addressed directly and immediately. Client resolution of a dispute should be the final measure and ultimately, discouraged. Trust will only come through open, honest and transparent dialogue amongst the partners.
Arranged marriages can work in this business and, when effectively implemented, can be the foundation for unlocking great ideas, regardless of source. But just like life, we all have to be willing to make some personal compromises for the collective good.