How to Be a Partner, Not a Predator

Viewpoint: Forbidding Your Agency to Poach Business From Collaborating Shops Is Good for Business

By Published on .

Rob Colangelo
Rob Colangelo
Recently over lunch, a client asked my perspective on the effectiveness of inter-agency teams collaborating on the same piece of business. He had some issues in the past and wanted advice on how to ensure that his agencies worked together in the most effective manner.

Like many agencies, regardless of specialty or size, we at Colangelo often partner with other agencies to serve our clients who find an advantage in leveraging the expertise of various shops. The client's expectation, of course, is that their agencies will keep the lines of communication open and work together in a supportive and collaborative fashion, with one shared goal: achieving optimal results for the brand.

There's no question that a stellar inter-agency team can produce great innovation, synergies and efficiencies -- but only if all parties truly work together and toward a common goal. That takes trust. And trust must be earned.

Many in the agency community have learned the hard way that trust can be severely damaged when account directors feel as though their "turf" is being encroached upon by the very agencies with which they are supposed to be collaborating. Unfortunately, crossing the line is a common practice in our industry.

We've all found ourselves in situations where another agency is working its own agenda, looking for an opening to grab a bigger share of the credit and a bigger slice of the budget. Making the collaboration even more challenging is when you are not sure that your partner agencies are playing by the same rules. Certainly, agencies should protect their own interests, but if you give cause for the other members of the inter-agency team to no longer trust you and to shift their focus, it is ultimately the client that loses.

If you are in the position of being a lead agency that works on the bulk of the client's marketing account, remember that with power comes responsibility. When we find ourselves in that role it is imperative for us to set the right example for the group and ensure that the team doesn't lose sight of the end goal.

Yes, it is very clear that we are still in the midst of tough economic times, and that marketing budgets are often a casualty of financial cuts. Looking at this situation, it would be easy to say, "Now more than ever, we need to be competitive and grow our revenue any way we can." Yes, the temptation to "poach" work from a fellow agency assigned to the same brand will always be there, but it is ultimately bad business.

There is an unwritten code of conduct that all agencies should adhere to, one that's not complicated, and one we've all heard before: "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." What is effective in life is effective in business.

At our agency, we impress upon our account directors to play well in the sandbox when involved with our inter-agency team partners. We tell staff it is vitally important to preserve a high level of trust and adhere to assigned roles so that we can keep working relationships open, collaborative and effective. The better you work with your partner agencies, the better the results for your clients. The better the results for your clients, the more likely it is that they will give you more business.

Additionally, the better your results with partner agencies and the more open and collaborative your relationships with them, the more likely they too will bring you more business opportunities. Just like back in school, if you're known as a good team player, you get invited to join more teams.

In short, one agency's opinion: Do not poach business from partner agencies because the short-term gains will fail you in the end. Taking the high road will lead to better business for your agency in the long run because nobody wants to partner with a predator.

Rob Colangelo serves as president of his eponymous shop, which is owned by Omnicom Group.
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