Get the most out of working with agencies

There’s an old Chinese saying: “hire the one you trust and trust the one you hire,” that has an added layer of significance when your company is considering working with an external marketing agency on a job. As I’ll show you, following a few essential steps can drastically increase the odds that you’ll have a successful working relationship with an external agency and ideal results.

As a former lead of several global Fortune 500 marketing teams – including with PepsiCo, Pfizer and Unilever – I was often tasked with picking the right external marketing agency for projects, such as TV commercials, posters, product launches and other marketing initiatives. It was my responsibility to get the best outcome on a tight schedule.

After many successes and a few sleepless nights, I found that the following mix of approaches dramatically elevated the trust we placed in the agencies we worked with and increased productivity, saving us valuable time and money in the long run.

1. Find the right fit

For starters, interview the agency to make sure you’re on the same page. Can you get along with their team? Is your vision aligned when it comes to goals and expectations? Do you like them as people? Do you trust them?

Like the Chinese proverb I stated at the beginning of this article, once you’ve found an external team you trust, relax and have faith in their ability to get the job done. But before that happens, do your homework. In order for them to give you the results you’re looking for, you and your staff need to feel comfortable communicating openly and freely with the agency’s team.

2. Be transparent upfront

It’s important to lay it all on the table from the get-go. Nobody likes being surprised with new insights or statistics after a bulk of work has been completed. So, start off your relationship with an external agency on the right foot by providing them with the necessary background information and getting all stakeholders involved in the initial meeting and planning phase. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a situation where it’s garbage in, garbage out.

I learned this lesson the hard way when a company I worked for lacked the five years of historical data requested by an external marketing agency. We forecasted estimates to fill in three years of missing data and then gave the stats to the agency without telling them the bulk of the information was based on conjecture. As you probably guessed, the results fell short; and, we saw quite clearly the pitfalls of rushing through the process and hoping for the best.

3. Create a good brief

Speaking of being upfront, why not get your expectations in writing right off the bat? Devoting time to a drafting a comprehensive brief will further clarify and cement your intentions for the project, and help you identify all stakeholders who should be involved in the process before it gets underway.

4. Be open to new ideas

At one point while I was working for a multinational corporation on a TV commercial project with an external production agency, we decided to get the director involved in the creative stage. This was rather atypical for us and a last-minute decision made because of a failed first attempt at the commercial (which bombed the consumer testing analysis) and looming deadline. The director’s insights both surprised and amazed us, and the end result was a commercial that we were thrilled to share with consumers. Had I hired an agency I was less comfortable with, the situation might have been more nerve-racking and the results less favourable. But because I had complete trust in their team at that point, giving the agency carte blanche proved to be the best decision for everyone involved.

5. Key contact person

Assign a key contact person to act as a gatekeeper between your company and the agency. This person is responsible for answering questions, keeping track of all major communications, looping in stakeholders and preventing the duplication of tasks.

6. Consistent meetings

Another important step is to set regular meetings with the agency and all stakeholders. Depending on the timeline for your project, this could occur daily, weekly or monthly. What’s important is that everyone meets on a consistent basis to maintain an open dialogue and share ideas.

7. Debrief and celebrate!

Once the project is complete, take stock of whether targets were met, what worked and what could be improved upon for next time. Then, celebrate your accomplishment! I frequently worked with the same external agencies at one company or with different companies. Nurturing those relationships helped to build an even greater sense of trust and camaraderie, which greatly increased the value of those relationships over time.

Written by Corrine Lin

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