Masterclass Notes: Assumptions derailing relationships post-pitch
by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) After the pitch has been completed, various assumptions may derail your new relationship during the early months. Here’s how to avoid this happening.
Agree — do not assume
The most-destructive things for the relationship between client and agency are unfulfilled expectations and unarticulated assumptions. Agreeing to, rather than assuming, what is in scope and what is out of scope is vital at this stage. It’s not only the big stuff such as campaigns and commercials; it’s the detail such as travel costs and travel time, competitive analysis work on an ad hoc basis, attendance at and frequency of meetings, and producing a deck for a presentation, etc.
Don’t set the retainer fee too soon
With all of this in mind, I’m increasingly starting to recommend that marketers and agencies agree to a fee for the first three months, rather than for a full year. It’s then easier to arrive at the fee for a full year once you’ve had chance to work together and find out more about each other, as well as set up a way of working to suit both parties.
It’s also possible to work on a cost-estimate basis during the three-month period for even greater flexibility, if both parties will commit to that; it might be more work and effort in the short term to keep track of costs but it’s a much-better way of assessing outputs and related costs in the short term.
When to set the service level agreement (SLA)
According to findings of the AAR’s recent client/agency research, almost two-thirds of both clients and agencies feel it’s useless to set out an SLA at the start of the relationship as the pressure points and realities are still unknown. It seems more advisable to set a framework based on the range of services required from the agency and then to amend these as the real situations come into play. For example, how many rounds of amendments to creative work will you accept?
Level of input from senior team members
It’s likely that the level of planning and strategy required in the early part of the relationship will necessitate a greater level of hours invested by the senior team members. Perhaps this needs to be taken into account in a phased approach to the costs in the retainer fees during the early stages. This may then be adjusted later on in the relationship, when implementation is simpler and a more-regular fixed monthly fee may be contemplated.
Whatever you agree, it is vital that it is communicated to your team quickly and clearly so that they know what to ask for in the full knowledge of what is in the scope of work. Equally, communication with the agency team is important so that misunderstandings — no matter how small — don’t occur. Maintaining a fluid approach requires consistent monitoring and yet it allows for new opportunities to come in and be implemented quickly and easily. Proactively managing the relationship is better than being swept along by it.
I recommend a six-month health check into the relationship so that any niggles may be easily ironed out and rectified, thus avoiding disappointment on either side. Every relationship starts with both sides wanting it to succeed — the key for both sides is communication.
Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. Johanna is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. Currently she is running the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of masterclasses held in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits.