How Marketers Can Reduce Tension in Managing Multiple-Agency Relationships

Viewpoint: The ANA's Five Best Practices That Will Help Your Shops Succeed

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In today's increasingly complex marketing environment, clients are reaching out to a broader range of agencies to gain new channel expertise and fresh perspectives. This is especially true as digital continues to grow and branch out into social media, online content and mobile. According to the 2009 ANA Digital Marketing Compensation survey, 39% of marketers are now using five or more agencies in the digital space alone.

However, as Ad Age reported in its April 26 issue on "Agency/Marketer Relationships," having more agencies at the table has introduced new tensions and challenges among clients and agencies. This is compounded by the fact that agencies feel they are being asked to deliver higher-quality and innovation even as they face cost-cutting pressures and changing agency assignments. The article talked about what agencies can do to help improve client relationships; several agencies commented that they would like to hear more about what clients can do on their side.

Many marketers are looking for new ways to maximize the value of their multiple agency relationships and to help set up their agencies for success. Below are five best practices shared at recent ANA Agency Relations committee meetings:

Share business priorities and goals
Start by creating a more strategic relationship with your agency partners by explaining your broader business strategy and key priorities for the year. This will enable your agencies to provide more strategic value to your broader business and help your agencies plan and allocate resources accordingly.

It is also helpful for clients to establish a marketing calendar with key campaigns and messaging priorities. This will also help you develop individual scopes of work and fees with each agency and ensure the right staffing structures are in place. Since many marketers increased their marketing activity in 2010, it is important to ensure there is sufficient staffing to handle the increased workload as well as changes that arise during the year.

Set goals and evaluate
If you have a formal agency-evaluation process, consider establishing a common goal framework across agencies, including objectives such as campaign goals (which can vary by agency), collaboration (with client and across agencies), speed to market, innovation and financial management, and establish criteria for success. You can then follow up with a more detailed discussion with specific goals and expectations for each agency, followed up by a formal evaluation review one to two times a year.

Ideally agency-evaluation feedback should come from both the client-working teams as well as senior management. Also consider including "360 feedback" to allow the agency to provide feedback on the client in order to help uncover issues and find new ways to work together more effectively.

Improve the creative briefing
The creative brief is perhaps the most important part of any creative process, as it is used to both "inform and inspire" the cross-agency team. Marketers may use an umbrella or cross-channel brief to work across agencies, which can also be followed by more specific briefs for different channels. The brief should also outline the key business problem or opportunity and the desired outcomes of the campaign (business and brand goals and metrics), and relevant information such as the target audience, relevant consumer insights, learnings from past campaigns, marketing budgets and campaign timelines.

Inevitably changes will surface during the creative process, so plan on providing briefing updates and ensure you allow your agencies enough time and resources to work through these changes. Clients should also confirm roles on their side, including who are the key decision-makers and stakeholders in the process, and ensure the decision-makers are involved early in order to provide direction and sign-off. This will help avoid extra rounds and costs as well as agency team burnout.

Clarify roles with new agencies
Given the changing digital landscape and fragmentation of media channels, it's not surprising marketers are increasingly bringing in boutique agencies to help them work with social marketing, online content, mobile and more sophisticated online advertising tools. These agencies can provide specialty expertise and help complement existing agencies, but they can also cause confusion about roles and add a layer of complexity to the creative process.

It is important for clients to set expectations about why these new agencies are being brought in and what role they will play. Marketers should also avoid the temptation to bring in too many agencies, which can make it difficult to drive a cohesive strategy and process across the cross-agency team.

Bring best practices to life in your organization
The best practices described above may take some change management to bring to life within your organization. Discuss the best approach and rollout plan with your management and your agencies. Once you are ready to implement, consider introducing new tools and training to help your marketing teams on topics such as how to brief your agency and evaluate new creative, and training on agency compensation principles and guidelines.

Ideally, you should conduct this training at least annually in order to accommodate staff turnover in your marketing department. You'll also want to continually evaluate your processes to evaluate what's working and what's not, and seek out feedback from both agencies and marketing teams. The key to success will be ongoing two-way communication to continue to enhance your relationship in 2010 and beyond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eve Reiter is VP-global agency relations at AmEx and chair, ANA Agency Relations Committee.
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