Inspiring Agencies Requires Process, Training, and Discipline

By Dan Wald

Over the past three years, I've conducted over 50 ANA workshops with leading marketers across many categories. This experience has reinforced my belief that it can take years to acquire the skills necessary to manage agencies and decades to learn how to truly inspire them.

What's more, these skills are not taught in undergraduate business or in MBA programs. They're not taught by corporations. The attitude seems to be more of a "trial by fire" mentality. "Throw 'em into it and they'll figure it out."

But this approach makes little sense with such high stakes and budgets involved. A complaint I've heard from many agencies is that they go through multiple rounds with mid-level and junior clients only to then have senior management completely change direction. This wastes time and money and causes a great deal of stress. It also kills morale – for both client and agency.

There is a better way. And that way is to develop effective processes, socialize them throughout the relevant audiences with training, and then have the discipline to put them into practice.

Step 1: Process Development

For many clients, crucial agency management processes have not been clearly outlined, are outdated, or nonexistent. When they do exist, they are often inconsistent across brands or channels. The result can be agency partners who struggle to keep up and who are forced to move forward without the right information and guidelines.

Specific processes to that must be developed:

  • Briefing
  • Communications and peering
  • Multiple agency operating model and role clarification
  • Interagency communications
  • Workflow and approvals
  • Campaign debriefs
  • Escalation
  • Agency and personnel onboarding
  • Agency evaluations

Each of these processes must be outlined in detail and supported by templates where appropriate. Questions to ask yourself:

  • Does everyone use the same brief template? Are your KPIs understood by everyone and measured in a consistent fashion?
  • Does everyone define terms in the same way?
  • Are your briefs carefully crafted or are they "filled in" at the last minute? Are they reviewed by all key stakeholders?
  • Does senior leadership read and provide input on briefs?
  • Are there ways to streamline your approval process?
  • Have you set up communications protocols between client and agency to avoid cross communications and inconsistent or conflicting feedback?
  • Do both client and agency team members know when to escalate issues as well as who to escalate them to?
  • Do our agencies work together well? Do they know the rules of engagement? Does each know their role and responsibility? Are they constantly trying to poach each other's business?
  • Are your campaign seamless for your target audience?

Step 2: Training

New processes must be socialized across the organization in order to be effective. It begins with comprehensive training across marketing, procurement, and other relevant staff. It involves the following:

  • A socialization plan for client and agency personnel
  • Comprehensive training sessions
  • A digital training manual and intranet content and template library
  • On-demand training videos

Training must evolve as processes and templates evolve. Each new class of hires must undergo the training as part of their onboarding.

Step 3: Discipline

In the heat of battle, it is not uncommon for marketers to rush or skip crucial steps in providing their agencies with the information needed. Instead of setting their agencies up for success, they are, in fact, setting them up to fail. These can include any or all of the following:

  • Incomplete briefs
  • Rushed timelines
  • Vague SOWs
  • Crossed lines of communication
  • Inconsistent or conflicting feedback
  • Unclear roles for participating agencies
  • No campaign debriefs

The value of establishing processes and providing training is only as good as having the discipline to use them. All stakeholders must be accountable to follow the established processes. Adherence must be included as part of their personnel reviews.


Process, training, and discipline are the foundation of effective client-agency relationships. There is certainly an element of magic to what agencies do. But that magic is most likely to happen when clients are disciplined and consistent in how they guide and lead them to success.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Dan Wald has over 35 years' experience at agencies, independent and within WPP, IPG, and Publicis. He has worked with clients in major categories including Retail, CPG, Financial Services, Insurance, Telecom, Technology, QSR, Media and Entertainment, Pharma, Hospitality, Travel, Spirits, and Utilities. He has worked as a Review Consultant and Training Specialist with Joanne Davis Consulting and is currently an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh.

He is currently a Facilitator for the Client-Agency Optimization Enterprise Curriculum, recently launched by the ANA's Marketing Training and Development Center to help brands maximize agency relationships, improve outputs, and reduce costly turnover.