…or with any other services company. In over 14 years of intense marketing I’ve worked with a lot of creative agencies and with many partners that also worked with creative agencies. I talked to large customers, large agencies, small customers and small agencies. And I think that I can give some advice on how to improve the relationship between customers and agencies, especially for customers that begin a new relationship with an agency.
1. The agency is not your slave. The agency is YOUR PARTNER. Partner, not slave. Partner, not slave. Partner, not slave. Write this down in your brain and in your heart again and again till it’s part of your DNA. The fact that you have a business relationship with an agency doesn’t give you the right to treat the agency or anyone in the agency as slaves. The agency is your partner in reaching your campaign objectives and your business objectives. This partnership pays your salary and it pays the agency salaries. Treat them correctly and they will deliver correct assets. You don’t need to pamper the agency but you need to foster an environment for a normal mutual benefic relationship
2. Client service is not your lover. I know that today’s strict sexual harassment laws limited the amount of harassment happening in business relations however I saw way too many cases where customer misinterpreted the client service attitude as an open door to sexual innuendos. Client service reps from around the world can testify how disgusting it is for them to deal with the drooling of frustrated corporate employees. It is also very humiliating on both sides – for the one that makes the sexual advances is humiliating to receive a blunt or even a soft rejection, and for the one that must deal with sexual advances it is very humiliating to try and find a way to reject the advances. And yes, all these “Casanovas” and “Mata Haris” don’t think that laws apply to them as well. They know better…
3. Always give feedback to the agency. Objective, timely and fair feedback. Incorporate in the first feedback (which ideally is the last feedback before the final proposal) all the feedback from all the stakeholders that need to give feedback in the process. Please read all the debrief from the agency and yes, gather ALL the feedback. Coming up with eight-ten e-mails after with “oh I forgot to say that also you need to change…”and “now after I read better I see…” or “I missed this but I cannot accept that” it is really unacceptable. It shows that you don’t have any respect for the work of the agency or for their time. Also, please try to be SPECIFIC when you write the feedback. Avoid becoming a poster.
4. Write detailed and comprehensible briefs. Comprehensible in a way that the brief must contain ALL the info needed for an activity. You want to launch a product? Describe the product in a way you would describe it to your kid. Avoid writing jokes like “find on the internet about our product”. Put everything there that you expect your customers to remember about your product. The role of the agency is to find a smart way to position your product or solution into the hearts and minds of your customers. A stupid brief will always generate a stupid campaign. Make sure that the agency understood the product or the service, the activity you think you want to run, that it has all info about the market, competition, positioning, SWOT matrix etc. So that they can deliver. You cannot expect a sword master to craft the perfect sword without the perfect tools.
5. Learn how an agency works. An agency has a completely different dynamic compared to a normal business company. You have client service, planner, creation, copywriter, DTP, finance, legal, CEO. Learn about the relationships between all these roles and you will have the key to a much better relationship between you and the agency. You will learn who you need to influence in order to get better timings and better results. If a marketer has to deal with an agency without having any experience in this field frustrations will appear immediately. A classical lose-lose situation where the customer is frustrated with the agency and the agency is convinced that the customer is completely stupid.
6. Don’t allow all your colleagues to interact with the agency. Designate a single person to keep the relationship with the agency from your side, the customer side. The more people you have dealing with the agency the bigger the chance of a mess-up and of conflictual feedbacks that translate in extra meetings for clarifications, delays, conflicts, frustrations, screw-ups.
7. Choose the right person to handle the relationship. Beside knowledge and skills, you need chemistry. Lots of times the agency comes with a contract from the headquarter which forbids you to work with another agency. So for some time you will need to work with THIS agency. So you need someone with a constructive win-win attitude that understands that you have targets, they have targets and somehow you need to work together to reach these business targets. Even if the agency is “cascaded” from the top it doesn’t mean that together you cannot create amazing projects!
8. Thou shall not escalate in vain. Once you’ve learned the dynamics of the agency you know that if you call the manager/GM/Owner you can solve certain blockers. However, each escalation can lead to the client service receiving negative feedback and hard-time from management, and he or she will get frustrated and won’t be very motivated to work with you (and believe me, you need client service on your side). Before escalating a situation make sure you’ve had a conversation with the client service trying to solve the issues, remove the blockers etc.
9. Client service must joggle between you as a customer and between art, copy, planner, finance and management. Inside the agency he represents you as a customer, so you need to empower him or her to get the resources for your project. You need to give all the ammo so that client service gets time from art, time from copy, time from the planner, understanding from finance (if you missed some points) and support from the management team if you need to get the impossible done. He is YOUR AMBASSADOR! Never, never, never try to contact someone from the agency without the client service by your side. You will screw-up your ambassador and the whole relationship with the agency.
10. “Last minute” projects must be the exception, not the rule. Towards the end of a quarter you might get some extra funds available to spend from some of your other projects or from your headquarter. And you need to come up with a project. So you call your client service, you tell him to “pedal to the metal” and come up with a project in the next day or so or you will miss the opportunity. Be sure you will receive something but I can guarantee you it will be less qualitative than expected (it will be garbage, ok, complete crap). You need to give time to the agency to come up with a project – art & copy need time to discuss the best ideas for your campaign. Yes, money is an opportunity, but the opportunity must be carefully assessed if it’s really worth it.