My colleague Jason White recently wrote a blog post about client-agency relationships. In it, he gave tips for what agencies can do to gain the trust of their clients. Great stuff!
It’s been my experience, having spent time on both on the agency and on the client side, that how clients manage their agencies is just as important to the long-term health of their business as how the agencies perform their duties.
All agencies understand that ultimately, they work FOR their clients. But the relationships that really produce outstanding results are those where both parties work WITH each other. Think of your agency as a partner. A partner shares your goals, your dreams, has your back when things get tough and you can give a partner feedback without fear of retribution or defensiveness. There are few surprises for either party in a partnership since they have been able to communicate openly and stay connected via that trust Jason wrote about!
Micro-managers fret and stress over every detail and need near-constant updating on each project’s status. What they don’t realize is that micro-managing usually produces micro-results. While clearly it is important for you, the client, to know what the agency is doing and the results they are producing, knowing every detail does two things: 1) It squeezes out any spontaneous creativity and 2) It creates a situation where reporting results overtakes getting the results.. Neither situation is likely to produce the desired outcomes you want.
Your expectation as a client is that your agency is going to do what it says it’s going to do. That’s a fair expectation! That kind of accountability should go both ways. Let’s look at an example. A client had a strategy that was centered around the development of a blog. Great….a plan for creating fresh content! Our SEO and Social Media teams created a strategy around the blog that would drive traffic from the targeted audience. Only one problem: the client never delivered the blog. We had a strategy that needed to be overhauled (which we did) and goals that had to be adjusted (and, I should mention, were achieved!).
Not delivering on items, whether big (a blog) or small (photos from an event) can ultimately impact the results that you’d expect from your agency. Hold your agency to the same standards you hold yourself. If you expect them to hit every deadline, then hit yours. Don’t let them have “an out” by being able to say they couldn’t deliver because you didn’t!
Let’s face it…sometimes things go wrong. Of course, there are varying degrees of “wrong” and so, there are varying levels of reaction. Certainly, voicing your concerns is important and your agency should be there listening. But if the team is fearful of retribution if they make a mistake, it can stifle their creativity. A better tactic is to stay calm and focused so that you can work with the team toward a solution, providing an atmosphere that fosters creative problem solving.
Mission creep is something we’ve all encountered. It is when the expectations of a project shift, usually getting bigger, and the goals go beyond the original scope of the project. When it happens, clients sometimes move forward with new expectations without realizing that something has to give. An agency cannot be expected to deliver more results with the same budget or activity level. A resetting conversation is critical, one where you talk with your agency to reprioritize activities, eliminate (or put on hold) those that aren’t as critical as they once were, reset goals and discuss new budgets. It will put everyone on the same page as you move forward, with clear expectations on both sides.
Perhaps this is the most important thing to remember: your marketing agency is made up of people, just like your in-house team. They will work hard. They will achieve success. And, yes, they will make mistakes. Do they tell you about them? Do they take responsibility for them AND bring a solution? Then give them a break. Let these mistakes go. Keeping them more alive than necessary creates people that fear making mistakes, becoming hyper-cautious in their work and often less creative. In the ever-changing digital marketing realm, you don’t want that. What you want are people who are always looking for new ways to accomplish objectives, testing new strategies and tactics. And like many major accomplishment in history, there will be failures before major success. But it will be worth it, if you allow it to happen.
There will also be successes, so make sure you acknowledge your agency for them! Recently, we had a client go out of their way to publicly acknowledge the work we had been doing for the company. They sent a letter to our CEO and even arranged for the DragonSearch account team to be given special tokens, that had great symbolic meaning, in front of our entire company. Does that make a difference? Indeed it does. While every client wants to think that they are their agency’s ONLY client, we all know that that’s not the case (though we do our best to make you feel that way, too!). Think about which client YOU would want to work for: the screaming micro-manager or the gracious partner that appreciates your work. Give a round of high fives, in some form, and see how motivated your agency team will be to recreate that feeling of success.
The agency client relationship is always in flux. Agencies must strive to be more than just a vendor, they must gain the trust of their clients and become a valued partner. Clients must also work towards that end, allowing the agency the freedom to use their expertise on behalf of their clients. This kind of mutual respect and focus on the goals, is the foundation upon which client-agency relationships that last for years are built!
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had managing an agency? Share it in the comments below.