Agency relationships seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but the overriding concerns that most clients experience seem to range from their agency being AWOL – absent without leave – or that they just don’t quite get it and you are struggling to get them to perform up to your standards.
Yes, sometimes the challenge comes about through a lack of communication, or perhaps that what was originally ‘sold’ to the client was not communicated to the delivery team (which is why a client should always insist the agency pitch team IS the delivery team!).
But the real challenge in any scenario comes down to the question of whose job is it really to make things work well? And then there is simply only one answer that’s acceptable – the agency.
Managing one’s client is of paramount importance in getting the most out of the relationship. Clients have day jobs to do and the very reason they hired an agency was to augment their own efforts by outsourcing to an expert who has more time and resource. The last thing the client should be doing is having to chase the agency, or re-write copy, or drive the campaign – that responsibility lies squarely with the agency.
And driving the relationship from the agency side is so much more productive than being held to task by the client. It might seem like the tail wagging the dog, but the agency
know what they need to perform at their optimum level and know just how to work with the client to get it.
For clients, asking some earnest questions at the outset may well save a lot of heartache in the long run:
1. Who is going to manage and run the account day-to-day? The answer you are looking for here is not the Account Manager or Account Exec – it has to be the Account Director – the one with the intrinsic knowledge and probably the same one who impressed you at the pitch. They have to have the drive and commitment to stay with the programme and make it happen and, of course, be able to demonstrate they have the available bandwidth to always be there.
2. How deep is the agency knowledge pool and how good are they at getting the information they need from you with the minimum input? Your agency needs to be full of go-getting Rottweilers who have no inhibitions about contacting, schmoozing, badgering key people in your organisation to feed themselves from the word go in the relationship.
3. Whose idea is it anyway? Agencies that come to the table with questions and not answers need to be sent away again to do their homework. They need to be coming to you with fresh thinking and ideas that drive the campaign and align the messaging to your strategic goals whilst addressing key industry issues. That’s not the client’s job.
4. Do they really understand your business goals and that they need to deliver an ROI on your spend with them? An agency really needs to demonstrate that they understand your business aims for engaging with them and then lay out a plan for measurement and success criteria ahead of the planned start.
5. Are the team you are presented with going to be there in a year’s time, or are you going to have to go through all the training again and again? Staff turnover can be challenge for any organisation, but not if you are already dealing with the people that actually run the agency – this comes back fundamentally to who is driving the account – insist on the account director and don’t let them escape. See point 1.
6. Are they ever satisfied? Or when they hit the client’s expectation, do they just keep going and going? It ultimately comes down to the people in the agency, but they need to fit into that character type that says ‘good is just not good enough’
‘more is better’. The team needs to be relentlessly motivated to drive more and more from the campaign to get you to the top and keep on going.
7. How much time do they spend shouting about themselves rather their clients? Yes, it’s endemic amongst PRs, but with the advent of Social Media it is now easy to peer into the agency’s world – if there is a little too much ‘love thyself’ you may find yourself playing second fiddle for their attentions. An agency that is passionate about its clients will be shouting them from the rooftops all the time, not just when they have time.
8. Could you get on with the people at the agency – do you like them? Yes, its business, but working with nice people makes the frenetic world of media seem a whole lot easier to deal with. And when the chips are down and you are in the trenches with your PR sorting out that gnarly press issue, you need to be able to trust that you are working with colleagues who are in it for the shared passion, not just the next buck.
9. Does size really matter? Well, simply put, yes. If you are not important to your agency’s payroll, then you are not important enough. Though it might seem good to get a ‘branded’ agency in the West End, are you really going to be high enough up their agenda to get that special attention your campaign needs? Right-sizing your agency could be one of the most important criteria for success.
10. Are they ‘early’ or ‘late’ people? Having an agency full of slightly OCD ‘early’ people is a great way of getting first call on the story with the Editors and proactive engagement on your account. You’ll be able to tell the ‘early’ from the ‘late’ agencies right from the beginning of the pitch process in how quickly they respond to you and how passionate they are in their follow-ups. First impressions are usually the right impressions.