“We need a cross-platform, transformational digital campaign that reaches our target audience (24- to-35-year-old unmarried males interested in making hobby airplanes). Oh, it needs to be disruptive. And we need to track the ROI. Can you throw some social media in there as well?”
This might be the initial discussion between an agency and client, but it shouldn’t be the last. Your company needs to be prepared for the time required to answer tough questions and provide real insights into your market. You’ll only get the best out of your agency when you put the best into your agency.
Collaboration is the essential ingredient in a creative relationship. When your team isn’t communicating effectively with your advertising agency, creativity can suffer. Execution might be mediocre. And, ultimately, your business doesn’t maximize the agency you’ve hired. An advertising agency can only create smart, insightful campaigns when it is given the right kind of insight — and that takes collaboration.
Mastering the Give-and-Take
The relationship with your advertising agency is only as good as you make it. You have to invest time on the front end, making sure they understand your business. Let’s call it the learning phase. It’s stage one of any agency partnership.
At first, the time investment may seem daunting. Teaching people the intricate details of your business and industry is never easy. But you’ll find that equipping your advertising agency with deep understanding will pay off tenfold — maybe more.
The learning phase can be frustrating for clients because it never really ends. I remember taking over a Fortune 500 account. This particular client embraced and understood the value of equipping his agency with the knowledge needed to deliver great work. Having a new account manager could have frustrated him. He could have changed agencies, or complained.
But he did none of those things. In fact, he went above and beyond. Knowing that the mattress industry can be a complicated business to learn, the client flew me to every major industry event. He allowed me to experience the people, products, and events that shaped his business. Telling would have been sufficient. But showing me was superb. The whirlwind mattress industry bootcamp brought me up to speed, and truly gave me the knowledge needed to deliver the best work possible.
The learning phase will only take you so far, though. Here are four more ways to get the most out of your agency partnership:
1. Assign a dedicated agency liaison. Agency teams are inquisitive, and there will be a multitude of questions in the beginning of a new relationship. Appoint an internal staff member, one who knows the ins and outs of the company and industry, who can provide support to the agency on an ongoing basis.
2. Communicate on a schedule. Marketing takes collaboration; that’s why consistent communication is vital. Talk on the phone and in person. Clarity often comes from conversations, not email exchanges. Carve out one hour each week. It works.
3. Rely on your agency’s expertise. To get the most out of your agency, you’ll have to do things you’ve never done before. Remember: You didn’t hire your agency to produce the same type of work you’ve always done. You hired them to help you do something new or better.
4. It’s not “us” and “them.” Problems and processes can be hard to figure out when you’re on the outside. Familiarize your team members with your agency’s staff. Try bringing your agency team onsite for a couple days. That visibility will help both teams coalesce. When projects are unfolding and stress is high, you’ll be glad your group shared a few laughs and really got to know the agency team. Trust takes more time to manufacture over the phone and on email. Speed up that process by getting people together for a few days.
If you want your relationship to thrive, openly talk about problems and challenges. Here are a few guidelines:
• Tell your agency what your expectations are.
• Communicate from a place of trust and respect.
• Give your agency a chance to perfect its process.
• Push your agency to become better. Then, after you give it another chance, recognize the improvements.
True collaboration is no easy task. But it’s worth it. Invest time in building your agency partnerships. Communicate on a schedule, rely on the agency’s expertise, and make them part of the team. Don’t take the learning phase for granted. Most importantly, make sure you enjoy the partnership. After all, this should be fun.
Mark Kinsley is a Vice President with MediaCross, a strategic communication firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. He’s an expert in brand storytelling and consumer behavior. Outside of the office he is an avid mountain biker. He also enjoys golf, Left Bank Bordeaux, and snow skiing. Connect with Mark on Twitter and Google+.