Most medium to large organisations partner with agencies to support them with their Marketing activity and to bolster their in-house resources and expertise. Many have multiple agency relationships in place at the same time.
I’ve worked in digital agencies for almost 13 years now so I have a lot of experience of the client/agency relationship and also the agency to agency relationship. I’ve seen how clients have been able to get the most out of the agencies they work with, as well as some of the pitfalls of working with multiple agencies. In this post I’ll cover some of the key things for those working client side to be aware of. This post should also be of use to those agency side, working with other agencies.
You may also be interested in this post from my colleague Xenia about how to get the most out of a Digital Agency relationship. Unlike me, Xenia has experience of this from the client side.
If you’re the person responsible for dealing with external agencies then “managing relationships” is basically your job spec for this process. Managing agency relationships and getting the most out of an agency requires:
Clear responsibilities are needed to achieve anything of value, in any area of business so this is a pretty obvious point. Each agency needs to be clear on what they are responsible for, and what input is required from them, from the start. Any lack of clarity here will cause issues later on.
Clear lines of communication
A good agency will have a clear line of communication for you as a client. They’ll also be able to define who should be communicating with other agencies and who needs to be involved from your end in this communication (if anyone).
Telling agencies to collaborate is a good start but it’s pretty vague and won’t necessarily get you the result you want. Instead it may be best for you to give them a framework for how and when to collaborate. For example, put in place quarterly all agencies meetings to discuss plans and areas of focus. Or set up a monthly call where a representative of each agency is present.
Like most relationships, the client – agency relationship works best when everybody is on the same page. It’s up to you to define what you want from an agency and how you want to be communicated with etc. Your agency point of contact will work with you to find a way of working which benefits you and gives them what they need to achieve great results.
There are a lot of posts out there about how to pick an agency so I won’t go into too much detail here. The chances are, if this post is of interest to you, you typically work with more than one agency.
I would personally recommend that you pick agencies by expertise whilst considering which areas naturally align. If an agency has specialist expertise in SEO they should be setting the SEO strategy and be involved in the Content Marketing plan. If another agency has Branding experience they should have input on creative for digital campaigns etc.
Be wary of agencies who offer a service but don’t have expertise in it. It could be tempting for an agency to exaggerate their skills in certain areas but you can spot this if you know which questions to ask (buy me a drink some day and I’ll tell you these). You wouldn’t ask your plumber to fix your electrics just because it’s easier than finding an electrician.
Full Service Agencies
Historically a lot of agencies have branded themselves as “full service”, suggesting that they can handle all elements of Marketing and Communications. How this plays out in reality tends to depend on the size of the agency.
If they’re a huge multinational they may have the expertise, across various offices, to deliver all elements. Be aware that their ability to deliver [marketing buzzword incoming…] joined up thinking [sorry] may be limited, unless you’re paying big bucks for someone strategic to be involved in all elements. Being part of the same organisation doesn’t guarantee that the PPC person knows what the PR person is doing.
If a small agency is claiming to be “full service” the chances are the whole offering may be built on outsourcing. This isn’t a bad thing by default, but it has the same risks as a large “full service” agency in that one hand may not know what the other hand is doing. This setup requires that someone has a strategic overview of everything that is happening.
In both examples above, you should be clear on who is setting the strategy and how they are communicating this with all parties. If your budget isn’t big enough to be paying an agency for strategic input they should make you aware of this.
Organisations may be tempted to try and play agencies off against each other. For example instructing different agencies with running different channels and tasking them with beating each other’s results.
This approach is short sighted for two reasons:
- A collaborative approach will almost always provide greater results. Different marketing channels or tactics do not exist in a vacuum and need to work together.
- Targeting your agencies with beating arbitrary targets, rather than listening to them about what can be achieved, will not work in the longer term.
You do want some level of competition in place however, to keep everybody focused on maintaining a high level of service. This is inherent in you working with multiple agencies and additional pressure here may result in a strained relationship which won’t work in the long term.
In conclusion, managing multiple agencies is similar to managing multiple people. If everyone knows what they need to do, has the support they need and the communication is clear, you’re halfway there. You must ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal with clarity over what they are responsible for and how this overlaps with others.