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Effectively managing an external agency relationship

By Jon Pittham November 27, 2017 News Growth marketing

You‘ve made the decision to appoint an external agency. Or you may have worked with one for some time. But how do you get the most out of them? What‘s the best way to ensure they are complementing your in-house resource?

The key thing to stress is that it’s a two-way relationship and as with all relationships, an appreciation of each other’s position goes a long way.

From our experience, we’ve built up a good picture of what marketers seem to value and what helps things runs smoothly from the agency side, so we thought we’d share our main insights.

What clients want from their agency:

  • new ideas - you want us to come to you with fresh, exciting stuff
  • you want us to get it right first time
  • you're busy - so you need us to recognise that dealing with an agency or a particular project isn’t the only thing you’ve got going on
  • you’re looking for some energy, pace and direction to come from us
  • you need specialist expertise about things that would be too time consuming for you
  • you want us to challenge you
  • you have a willingness to share our knowledge
  • you expect us to have an understanding of your business, needs and pain points - we need to know you have your own internal clients too and that no two businesses are the same
  • you expect us to be accountable

What an agency needs from you:

  • clarity on your wider business goals and challenges
  • an understanding of your organisation’s culture, values, systems and processes, particularly in relation to marketing
  • realistic deadlines and clear expectations of what’s to be delivered (of course this works both ways)
  • feedback - always!
  • to be challenged - there’ll be a reason we’ve done something; if we can’t explain why, you should sack us!
  • the space for us get on with the job - you’re hiring us for our knowledge, experience and capability, so stand back to some degree and let us do our stuff!

So what’s the secret to a successful client/agency relationship?

From our experience, it’s where the following are clear throughout:

  • time has been spent for the agency to understand the culture, values, systems and processes of the business - they ‘get’ your world
  • the agency understands the key stakeholders
  • clear expectations are agreed and set at outset, including budgets
  • open dialogue and lines of communication are agreed, including access to appropriate stakeholders
  • there are measures in place that will assess success
  • the relationship is open both ways to allow for feedback and challenge where appropriate.

One Head of Marketing told us that it was the fact we had insights to share and were willing to let her listen and learn for a while, which ultimately made her engage with us. Dorothy Leonard-Barton also explains in her excellent book Where sparks fly, creativity is found that the best creative ideas and innovations come from well-led, joint interactions. From our side, we’ve seen that when a client and agency work in true partnership to a common goal, remarkable results can be achieved.

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Jon Pittham

Jon Pittham

Jon founded ClientsFirst in 2010 following a career in sales, marketing and operations in both plc and sme. Passionate about utilising technology to improve capability and deliver value to the customer he is a regular speaker on the subject of helping businesses and organisations #growbetter. Connect with Jon on Twitter and Linkedin

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