Last week we discussed the top three ways that agencies can improve the client/agency relationship. Of course there are two parties to every relationship, and this week we delve into what clients can do to improve relationships with their agencies.
The last few years have added new responsibilities to your already full plate, and you work under the constant pressure from management to perform -- it is indeed demanding. However, without the proper level of your involvement, your agency relationship will inevitably fail.
Stay informed. An educated client will foster the most productive agency relationships by participating collaboratively, streamlining communication and keeping agencies on their toes. Be open to admitting that you don't know what you don't know. Adopt a sincere desire to understand more about the digital landscape, the consumer, and the processes and challenges of your agencies.
Nothing beats real-world experience, but attending conferences and training courses, and reading industry trades will help keep you updated on the constantly evolving world of digital marketing. Request education sessions with your agency as well as key third-party partners from time to time. Separating the signal from the noise amidst the age of information overload can be overwhelming, but you'll figure out how to make it work.
Allocate enough time to do your job properly. I know, easier said than done! However, this is vital. Plan to over-communicate during the briefing process and ensure that you always articulate your needs and objectives very clearly. Leave no room for assumptions and provide all the necessary caveats to turn shades of gray into black and white. Leave time for strategic planning on the front end, and iteration on the back end.
If you want thoughtful work from your agencies, then you need to provide a reasonable amount of time for them to produce it. Provide organized feedback. Be accessible. Always ask the agency to poke holes in your briefs and direction, and to make recommendations for you to consider.
The misalignment between what a client wants or needs and what the agency delivers is often the result of hasty communication and assumptions being made on one or both sides. Keep an open line of communication with your account leadership as well as key day-to-day agency staff. Help them help you.
Keep a level head. Be a role model for your agency to respect and enjoy working with. They won't take your kindness for weakness by default. Refrain from releasing your frustrations on them, particularly when it comes to areas that you are not intimately knowledgeable about.
Of course, sometimes they may deserve a firm touch when necessary. However, remember that negative reinforcement will not go very far in motivating individuals at the agency to work any harder for you in the long term. In fact, it's not unheard of for an agency to lose good people if they are continually belittled and never praised for their hard work.
The marketing services business can be thankless at times, and while you may be paying your agency top dollar, chances are, the account team is working well beyond 9-5 and not making nearly the salary you may imagine. Sometimes an "attaboy" goes a long way.
Being proactive about communicating any concerns regarding oversights, strategic direction, account management, or account leadership as early as possible will often prevent minor issues from escalating to becoming real problems. Although some account managers have developed an uncanny ability to read minds from time to time, don't rely on Jedi mind tricks to run your account.
If your agency is truly not up to the task at hand and disappoints you repeatedly after clear communication and attempts at collaboration, then do yourself a favor and replace them. While putting the account into review is the last resort, it is important to know when to make the decision. Changing agencies will temporarily disrupt the flow of performance and create the need to deal with a transition period. However, your new agency will be eager to learn about your brand, company and culture, and get up to speed as quickly as possible.
The moral of the story: It's tough being a client or an agency. Just like marriages aren't perfect and require hard work to keep thriving, so does the client/agency relationship. This is a fact not to be taken lightly by either side.
Until next time... Dr. Heller, your friendly client/agency therapist.