by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Sarah Ritchie, award-winning New Zealand author, returns to MarkLives to talk about her new book, “How to Tango with a Tiger: a marketer’s guide to working with creative communications agencies”, which aims to help everyone understand how creative agencies work — and how to work better with them.

Note: This interview was conducted prior to the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic being declared as such. The following comment has been added, as requested.
Sarah Ritchie: Right now, our personal and professional lives are being significantly impacted by the covid-19 [disease]. While it is natural to want to keep our eyes cast downward to focus on the “now”, it’s essential to look up and focus on the future. We WILL come out of this. Our industry will recover, and — when it does — we need to be ready.

Many of us (especially those in lockdown) are finding ourselves with more time on our hands than we have ever had before, and it’s easy to fritter away this precious opportunity. Why don’t you use this time to think, ideate and plan by yourself, with your team, and with your business partners? You could also watch webinars, listen to podcasts and read to up-skill yourself. Every cloud (including covid-19) has at least one silver lining, and the gift of time could be yours.

MarkLives logoWhile we have your attention, please would you consider taking out a MarkLives membership to help finance our operations? The covid-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on society and industry. With your support, either as a once-off or monthly contribution, we can continue our coverage of its impact on our industry.

Sarah Ritchie's How to Tango with a Tiger book coverQ5: Your book has “marketer” on the cover, but it’s got broad appeal — who should read it?
SR: You’re quite right. It was tough to pick just one word that encompassed all the types of people who will benefit from a book such as this. Essentially, “How to Tango with a Tiger: a marketer’s guide to working with creative communications agencies” is for anyone who commissions work from, or interacts with, agencies of all kinds. That could include marketers, brand managers, comms managers, business owners and managers, procurement teams etc. If you want to better understand how agencies tick and how to get the best work out of them, then “Tiger” is for you.

Q5: Tell us about the book creation process, from collation to cover — what did it entail?
SR: How long have you got?! It’s a mammoth task, especially as both of my books have been self-published. Fortunately, my career started as a graphic designer, so I felt confident to handle all of the production process myself, and I was used to copyediting. Though, I have to add, if you can afford to hire a professional to do the book editing, then it is highly recommended.

Creating “Tiger” was easier than my first book, “How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager’s guide to pretty much everything”. With “Octopus”, it was the blind (me) leading the blind (me). I didn’t know what I didn’t know (which was probably a good thing or I may not have started the venture). For the second book — and like all successful design projects — I was able to start at the end and work backwards, ensuring that I hit all my milestones and deadlines and ticked all the boxes without too much angst.

Essentially, the book production process can be divided into four parts: 1) writing; 2) editing; 3) layout; and 4) more editing and copy-proofing. The first book took me four years to produce; for the second, I was given a one-year deadline (whilst also working full time). Writing is — by far — my favourite part of the process, so it took a lot of effort for me to remain upbeat and on track to get the book finished. Having a very clear end goal and an immovable deadline helped.

Q5: What was the biggest learning for you, personally, when putting it together?
SR: I learned that, after nearly 30 years in and around the industry, after talking with over 1000 people about their experiences, and after extensive research, that I cannot hope to ever “know it all”… and, frankly, I like it that way. It means that, every day I am learning something new (thanks to our fast-moving industry), and I hope that sense of curiosity and wonder stays with me for the rest of my life.

Q5: What is one thing you’ve found every marketer wishes agencies knew?
SR: Agencies can mistakenly think that a marketer’s world revolves around them, and it often comes as a surprise to know that a marketer may spend only 5–10% of their time on agency-related projects. This stems from a lack of understanding about what a marketer’s (very broad) remit actually entails. It’s up to the marketer (the client) to clearly explain to their agency partners what their world is like. This transparency will help to set realistic expectations when it comes to things like communication, response timings, compliance processes, internal sign-off procedures, push-backs, etc.

Q5: For people wishing to dive deeper into marketing- and agency-relationship best practice after reading the book, what would you recommend?
SR: First, it’s important to make sure that your whole marketing team is on board with your approach to working with agencies. It’s okay to be a lone wolf within your company, but it’s exponentially more effective if you all agree to be on the same page. You can use the book as a “best-practice” training resource for your team and focus on one section at a time as the base for discussion and learning.

Next, it’s really important to ensure that your agency relationships are strong — and you may have to lead the charge in that respect. If there are any issues, then you need to knock them on the head and get the ship back on course. You could always give your agency the gift of “Octopus”, saying that you and your team are using “Tiger”, and that you want everyone to be working toward the same end goal of creating healthy, productive business partnerships. Plus, if you are not already doing agency/client 360-degree reviews, then that’s a really good place to start.

See also


Carey FinnCarey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.

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