Optimizing Agency Relations: Good Practices
January 1, 2004
Partnership--the Ten "P's"
We all know the 4 "P's"--product, price, promotion, and place. Some of the same "P's" apply to the advertiser/agency relationship.
The client/agency team with the greatest passion is likely the team with the leading brand.
Have you checked your passion quotient lately?
The team enthusiastic about its work is the team generating word of mouth, which attracts others to join the brand.
- Did you just get the job done or did you do something really great?
- Do you go home after work and tell your spouse about the really great work you did?
No great partnership ever happened without top professionals, the best people.
- Do both client and agency have the most professional and best people on staff?
- How are they evaluated?
- Do clients have the right level of managers involved?
- Do agencies have the right level of talent involved?
- Are there too many people or not enough people?
Great advertisers and great agencies are prompt in their direction and prompt in their response; prompt in their feedback; prompt with revisions; and prompt to respond to a marketplace or competitive threat.
What are both advertiser and agency doing to move swiftly for market advantage?
Great agencies show initiative. Great advertisers never rest on their laurels.
- What are agencies doing without being asked?
- What have advertisers initiated for the brand's future?
- What kind of sessions does the team have for future planning?
Both parties need organized work processes.
- What disciplines do agencies have to maximize productivity, reduce reworks, and maximize client dollars?
- What disciplines do advertisers have to provide consistent, clear direction, expectations, and streamlined approvals?
- If clients want to save money on agency fees and get better agency work that hasn't been killed by a junior level who can say "No" and not "Yes," what can clients do to improve?
- What are clients doing about moving from multiplerank levels of briefings, presentations, and approvals to fewer levels in joint sessions?
There is much inspiration and learning from searching and reapplying good practices from others.
- What are agencies doing to share good practices from other clients?
- What are advertisers doing to share good practices from other brands and to share marketing and advertising principles with your colleagues in procurement?
The product is more than the advertisement; the product is the ultimate result.
- What are agencies doing to understand that the ad is the means to the end?
- What are agencies doing to understand everything possible about the client's business?
- What are advertisers doing to ensure your agencies understand the end game you want?
Great partners do not suffer from performance anxiety. Great performance is trust based.
- What are advertisers doing to create the right environment for optimal performance?
- What are advertisers doing to define performance standards and assess them with formal or informal annual report cards and reviews?
- What are agencies doing to meet the performance expectations?
- What are agencies doing to react to a distant early warning?
- What are both parties doing about two-way performance evaluations?
- What is the team doing to build a trust-based relationship?
There's a price/value aspect to all partnerships. If one party is giving a lot more than the other party, the partnership is stressed. The party giving will become resentful of the party not giving its fair share.
- What are the parties doing to ensure a fairness balance of fair pay for great work?
- What are agencies doing to explain their costs, value, and economic contributions to the client's business?
- What are advertisers doing to understand agency economics and provide fair compensation?
- What are marketers doing to explain agency compensation with their counterparts in finance, procurement, and audit?
- What are agencies doing to help the marketer with this practice?
Communication--the Six "C's"
For both advertisers and agencies, communication is king. The ultimate communication to the audience is maximized with great communication between client and agency.
Without clear, precise briefs and candid feedback, both parties are wasting time and money with false starts, inefficient reworks, and redos.
- What are clients doing to prepare consistent briefs?
- How are clients improving the briefing process?
- What are agencies doing to understand them?
- What are both parties doing to improve listening skills?
Many strong advertiser/agency teams develop a formal contract of expectations, a job description for the relationship similar to a thorough brand brief.
- What are advertisers doing to clearly describe work expectations and scopes of work?
- What is the formal process to fine-tune expectations and adjust?
- What are agencies doing to meet the contract?
- What are both parties doing to provide a work contract with the same precision as a top-caliber creative brief?
Great partners in a relationship make a commitment to each other. Often compared to a marriage vow, both parties make promises to love and honor.
- What are both parties doing to cultivate the marriage?
- If something goes wrong, are clients conducting a pre-review or secretly flirting with other agencies?
- If something goes wrong, are agencies flirting with the client's competitor or moving the best people to other accounts rather than putting the best people on the account to solve the problem?
If the advertiser had all the creative power of an agency in house, the advertiser wouldn't need an agency.
- What are advertisers doing to understand and respect creativity?
- What are agencies doing to educate clients on creativity?
- What are parties doing to understand creative standards?
- What's the bull's-eye for the brand and what misses the target?
- How do both parties feel about creative and effectiveness awards?
Teams have greater potential to deliver success than one party alone.
- What are both parties doing to institute a real team spirit?
- What are both parties doing about teamwork programs and immersion sessions?
- What are both parties doing about off-site meetings and team socials?
- What are both parties doing to "walk the walk" not just "talk the talk" as a team rather than "us" versus "them"?
For a communications business, the shoemaker's children are often without shoes. Both parties want the children to have shoes but too often forget.
- What are advertisers doing to provide more honest feedback?
- How are advertisers empowering agencies to provide criticism of clients?
- What kind of "time out" system do you have where even though the client is the client, it doesn't backfire on the agency to provide honest critique of the client?
- What are agencies doing to truly improve listening skills?
- How are both parties working to make sure the ears are more important than the mouth when it comes to communications?
- How are both parties working to ensure important communications are in writing and to avoid the game of telephone where the message is lost somewhere in translation?
Results--the Three "R's"
In advertising, the 3 "R's" don't mean reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic but results (ROI), rewards, and risks. The ultimate goal of the relationship is obviously not about creativity for creativity's sake. The role of advertising is to sell something.
With greater scrutiny on results and ROI, it's imperative that clients are clear with agencies regarding expectations.
- What are advertisers doing to share all information on goals and achievements?
- How are agencies a true partner in meeting the goals?
- What are both parties doing to assess and measure the ROI?
- How are both parties investigating metrics and better methods to research the actual effectiveness of the work?
Just as companies are rewarded for successful results, so too should partners who contribute to the success.
- What are advertisers doing to reward superior agency contributions?
- If an advertiser is not using performance incentives, what other methods are motivating agencies to share your pain and share your gain?
- What are agencies doing to earn success rewards?
The old expression, "low risk, low rewards; high risk, high rewards" is apt for clients and agencies looking for great results.
- What are advertisers doing to encourage big ideas and reject fear?
- What are advertisers doing to build a relationship of trust and honesty that fosters bravery?
- What are agencies doing to provide responsible risks?
- We hope this outline serves as a framework for advertiser and agency to use jointly to discuss optimizing their relationship.
"Optimizing Advertiser/Agency Relations." Joanne Davis, President, Joanne Davis Consulting Inc. New York: ANA, 2004.