Masterclass Notes: Best practice for agency collaboration
by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Apart from the slight — though significant — differences between the definitions of collaboration, cooperation and coordination, what is really happening between clients and agencies in terms of agency collaboration? We opened the collaboration “Pandora’s Box” at a recent masterclass and this is what we found.
This session was one of the only ones where agencies and marketers met during the programme. Apart from the 15 marketers in the room, our high-level panellists were: Chris Botha, MD of The Media Shop; Jerry Mpufane, group MD of M&C Saatchi Abel; Joanna Oosthuizen, national MD of Ogilvy Public Relations; and Kevin Lourens, chief growth officer of NATIVE VML.
But, first, some definitions:
Collaboration is a working practice whereby individuals work together towards a common purpose to achieve business benefit. Cooperation is people working together to achieve results or people helping each other out to achieve a common goal. An example of cooperation is when one person hands you a brick and you lay the brick. Coordination is the act of arranging, putting things in order, or making things run smoothly together
The IAS presented our views on collaboration and how we believe these relationships need to be managed and structured. There are various options within collaboration models — there is no “one size fits all”; it all depends upon the client needs, their key marketing drivers and, of course, budget.
Defining lead agency
There is a worldwide misperception about what constitutes the “lead agency”. This is not an automatic choice and tends to be marketer-driven — although may can be governed by a strong agency and this might not always be ideal. Our definition of a lead agency:
The lead agency chairs and project manages the inter-agency working group established to develop certain proposals and perform certain tasks. It serves as the central point for development. The lead agency determines the agenda, ensures cohesion and continuity among agencies and is responsible for implementing decisions.
It is not necessarily the creative agency — far from it — and is no longer the “birthright of the above-the-line agency”.
A quick poll around the room revealed that each client deals with at least four agencies on their respective rosters. Their experiences of collaboration and integration among the agencies were very varied, and certainly not perfect at all. Most have not seen collaboration among their agencies working well.
Comments from the panellists were interesting:
- Integration and collaboration among agencies only works when the client is in the room
- Client needs to be consistently in the room throughout the journey
- Client must be clear who the lead agency is. Agency energy tends to be channelled towards politics and not the solution if client is not involved
- Remuneration structures in place will dictate the solutions — eg TV campaign, ATL media
Comments from marketer concerning lead agency and collaboration were:
- If an agency is on a retainer, should they or should they not be the lead agency? Lead agency should be compensated for the role of co-ordination
- Email culture must be avoided
- Where there are problems, the agency must pick up the phone and call the client in
- Sit and discuss the issues — involve client at the centre
The elephant in the room was how to allocate the budget and this should not be left only to the agencies to decide:
- Client-involvement is critical
- Client vs agency perspective: for the former, the most-important thing is to come up with the big idea and money will work itself out. For the latter, the most important thing is who is going to get the money and how is this going to work.
- How does the agency time in collaboration get remunerated? This cannot necessarily be covered in a standard retainer.
Are agencies collaborating often?
- Between 80% and 100% of the time
- Most clients require agencies to collaborate
- It is standard practice
So what does good collaboration look like?
- Where possible, have dedicated resources and then you will get the get the best possible results
- Agencies should make an effort to get on well together
- Those that have built good relationships, understanding mutual respect and trust… can then have really honest discussions
- Important to set the parameters as to how to behave
- Client must be at the centre of the conversation
- Collaboration meetings take place at client offices, with client present at least some of the time.
The reality for marketers is that agencies need to get on with the collaborative process, preferably without too much client involvement. Collaboration in the marketers’ environment, ie within their own business/corporate structure, is also dysfunctional. So agencies will have to understand the marketer’s reality: what keeps the marketer awake at night? How is success measured?
Final panellist advice
- In the briefing session to the collaborating agencies, leave money off the table — this can be discussed later and led by client
- Works best when client has the time and will to stay involved in the collaboration meetings and discussion
- 80% of agencies are working in collaboration with other agencies — but relationships are somewhat fraught
- Client share in the agency success — if an agency won an award, marketer would host the celebration
- Incentive programme for account team — client should go 50/50 with agency
- All agency MDs should host a trip out of town every three months to talk about the work
- Start the journey — it’s not going to be perfect — multiple layers to appease, together with the media owners who should also be involved.
- Structures are important: collaboration is a product of a structure — if you leave things and wait for collaboration to happen, it won’t.
- Find a way to take money off the table — don’t have agencies at each other for money.
- Find people who are about the work and not about the ego. Good creative ideas are not the domain of the creative person; good media ideas are not the domain of a media person.
- Have people who are consumer-centric.
- Relationships help with collaboration. Build an agency-network around agencies that have little egos, don’t fight about money, and have a good relationship
- It is important to bring agencies together regularly and have honest conversations to deal with issues, so that you find yourself in a good partnership vs supplier space
- The best clients are those which always have stood by the agency, supported the agency and had the courage to have the difficult conversations and have kept the politics away.
- Chemistry is key: the chemistry must be right between agencies and clients
- Who is the customer we are all serving? Start with the WHY: who is the customer we are trying to serve, what is the business challenge, what is the brief is to achieve a goal and what does success look like?
- Have more face-to-face meetings and less email.
Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), and she 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.
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