Fair Exchange: Partner-power for brand-growth expectations
by Erna George (@) I’ve either worked with agencies or been client-facing within an agency for 20 years. I’ve deliberately constructed my career to cover both sides, with a level of depth to allow me to tap into both at any moment. The goal is to be a more-understanding client or client service provider, because having a great client-agency partnership is the only way to succeed. But to what extent does everyone do this anymore?
I’ve been out of the agency game for three years, so I collaborated with Ross Cooper from Paton Tupper, whom I’ve worked with on and off for many years (starting in about 1999!). His view and mine are fairly close, yet we often speak as if we’re on either side of the spectrum, rather than each ‘side’ of the same round table. The basics still apply and there’s some concern around the table about how young and busy people are appreciating this partnership, when all the WhatsApps, emails and other non-face-to-face channels can get in the way.
Understanding and sharing
Partnership is facilitated by understanding and sharing:
- From the agency view: “Agencies need to be immersed in their clients’ business and the only way this is possible is if there is a good partnership between both parties. Clients need to involve agencies with their strategic plans upfront to enable them to be pro-active and add value to their businesses.”From my side, I couldn’t ask for more. An agency that doesn’t understand your business, brands or the context of the brief is unlikely to interpret any request well first time around. The benefit of investing time in building a strong relationship with an agency that truly understands your brand is invaluable. But, as clients we need to put in the effort to share and keep our partner agencies on our strategic journey. Marketers take agencies on trade visits and share what they’ve learned from competitors or as strategic journeys change. Share all the information you have. Don’t test agencies by keeping aspects a secret, as trust is eroded and they can’t help you if they don’t know everything.
- The agency perspective is that, as agencies, they’re expected to know and understand the clients’ business and brands inside out, but few clients take the time to understand how agencies work — the creative process, the traffic planning and what goes into producing good work. I fully agree with the view that understanding your agency will help you formulate better briefs, know what to expect in terms of timings and deliverables, and further strengthen your relationship. The impact on turnaround time and efficiency is positive with this two-way understanding.We must find the optimal way for both parties to understand and appreciate each other’s worlds. Sending team members to work in the agency for a few days is a challenge from a cost and resource perspective, but it is important to find a way to share and demystify processes and to discover what makes each side tick — this will change the way you interact and yield great benefit. My advice is to keep this understanding alive in the timeline and to avoid any unnecessary interactions.
- I couldn’t agree more with the agency view that collaboration and co-construction between agency partners is critical. In the past, agencies were particularly protective of their intellectual property and weren’t prepared to collaborate with other agencies or specialist suppliers. These days, however, clients want to engage with a variety of specialists to achieve the best possible result from project to project, which means more collaboration is needed between BTL, ATL and digital Agencies. While it goes without saying that good briefs are critical to optimal output, this is where collaboration is also useful, especially across multiple teams. Brief in the work but consider a good discursive briefing session and build the final brief together to lay the foundation for a smooth process to follow.
Speed is a two-way street all can benefit from:
- To agencies from a fellow agency person: these days, speed to market is critical, which means agencies need to be more flexible with project timings. While traffic systems are in place for very good reasons, agencies must be able to accommodate the occasional urgent, unexpected project; it’s part of the great service that clients expect in a strong partnership.
- To clients from my client-eyes: having too many contacts and hedging your bets on creative routes complicate matters. If you want a smooth process to deliver on-point work. you need to offer a streamlined and clear briefing and revert process. Marketers, agencies aren’t there to manage your indecisiveness. Sending mixed signals of “it’s nice but…” sends the creative team down an unclear path. Rather signal where starting from scratch is required. Together we must co-drive brand growth agendas. Agencies can help see the wood for the trees to keep you ahead of the competition and deliver breakthrough impactful creative — not to test your label in three different shades of green.
Speed has a big impact on area no. 3 — the money. Understand the money and how you may impact this in the best way possible.
- What agencies tell us is that agencies and your business will flourish with managed to-and-fro reverts. Understand, marketers, that while your salary happens whether you meet target for a month or not, this isn’t the case in a time-bound business. Realise that every duplicated meeting for an agency means revenue that must be made up elsewhere or cost added to existing work-streams. When you receive a higher-cost estimate, I can guarantee you will doubt the value of the deliverable vs the cost. Before you get irritated, think about your role in the process.
- Agencies, please consider that, as clients, we need work that impacts brand growth — the hours are a means to an end but, if you bring 4+ people to each meeting, with deliverables being sub-par, clients won’t see value in this. As impressive as it may be in the beginning to show commitment with a large team presence, clients are more interested that the right people are in the room and that deliverables are met and impactful.
- From the agency perspective, there is a view that agencies need to adopt or consider a policy of “open-book” costings to build trust and loyalty between both parties. This transparency works both ways, and clients need to expose agencies to their budgets, so that agencies can allocate the required resources effectively to various projects.
- Lastly, while pitches are sometimes a necessary part of the business, there’s certainly something to be said for building a strong relationship with an agency that truly understands your brand and knows it inside out. Also, offering a small rejection fee with each pitch helps agencies to cover the costs involved in the work they’ve done preparing the pitch document.
If you get the basics right, the rest can follow. But, if you don’t, you’ll be continually haggling on timings and cost, over what you think they said or what they heard. No-one wants to feel like they’re on a playground where conversations must be refereed. Forget what each of you think you heard the other say and together decide what winning looks like for the project. Craft the ultimate end point together — what will success look and feel like at a total level and for each party — and then the process is more unified, with the creative team being energised and the bottom line being positively impacted. More importantly, everyone will have a lot more fun.
It really is about the basics, so ensure the young and/or new marketers are clear on these:
- Construct this relationship from the outset with clear rules of engagement around ways of working
- Understand each other’s worlds (operations, key needs and costs) as the foundation for a strong alliance
- Craft the brief and end-point together (face-to-face as far as possible), so that the journey is seamless and more fun.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!