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News Article

12th April 2022

My first year; answering what does a marketing agency actually do?

Written by James

Working with an agency is an extension of your company, so why is it then so common to feel cynical about this third party? Having worked client side for most of my career and now having switched to an agency, I try to explain this relationship and how clients can get more from an agency.

“It’s like Marmite working for an agency” is what people told me. Having worked client side for all my career I was somewhat apprehensive. Luckily, it turns out I fall into the ‘love it’ camp. I had worked with agencies before, but it wasn’t until I worked for an agency that I really understood it.

The reasons to use a creative agency are clear; expertise, a fresh perspective and of course a lack of resources to do everything in-house. Working with an agency is an extension of your company, so why is it then so common to feel cynical about this third party?

I know I did. Even when campaigns were going well, or we just received excellent PR coverage. I still imagined they were spending their time sitting on a bean bag somewhere watching YouTube. Other thoughts I had working client side included ‘they are not doing enough’, ‘they are not being quick enough’, ‘they are not listening to me’. Looking back on it now, how true were these thoughts? Was I a good client to work with? Probably not.

Agencies aren’t perfect either, but that is the point. It is a relationship like any other and if each side is clear on expectations and delivers them, it will blossom. Even better, it will also save money, time, and restless nights.

"The reasons to use a creative agency are clear; expertise, a fresh perspective and of course a lack of resources to do everything in-house".

Here’s 5 tips on how to get the most out of the client-agency relationship.

1. Decision makers

Before briefing a campaign, decide internally who will be giving input and who has the final final say. We’ve all been there – spent months working on a piece of advertising, only to show it to someone right at the last hurdle and they turn around and throw a massive spanner in the works. From the client-side this means delays. Extra cost. Often a drop in motivation and love for the project. You may not agree with the proposed changes either, but without having the final say magic card, that’s that. Decide upfront who has access to any giant spanners.

2. Accept the agency has other clients

I know, I know. Shocking isn’t it. I never cared that the agency had other clients. Why would I? I don’t know these other clients and I have my own deadlines to hit, so get a move on.

From the agency side, we must be fair to each client. My schedule is usually booked out at least two weeks in advance. If, as client I am demanding something urgent must be done by Friday, it means the agency has tough choices to make. It does happen of course, and agencies will jig schedules around to accommodate it, but if it’s frequent, you’re doing something wrong.

"A bad relationship is like standing on broken glass, if you stay you will keep hurting… If you walk away you will hurt, but eventually you will heal". (Autumn Kohler)

3. Couldn’t we do this?

Whilst an agency is an extension of your company. I wouldn’t suggest using them for admin work. That’s expensive. If something can be done in-house, then it should be. Save yourself some money and get the agency to do the tasks you’re paying them for. Although I do love a spreadsheet. Honestly.

4. Brief the agency, and step back

My worse habit by far. Briefing an agency on the vision that I had in my mind. I had it all planned out. All I needed was the creative types to graphically represent my mind’s vision and everything would be ok. Problem with this? You’ve stifled the agency at the very first hurdle. Even if your idea is good, there’s nowhere to go if you are completely set on it. Defeating the entire purpose. The best method is to brief and step away. Often the output is better when the chains are off.

5. Be proactively proactive

The client-agency relationship is like a gentle game of tennis. Except, if you keep the ball for too long then suddenly smash it at your opponent’s head causing mild concussion. Working client side, I admit I have done this. Following an agency call, I come away with a list of actions. I’ve either sat on them for too long or I’m waiting on someone else internally to respond to me. After emailing it back it to the agency a week on, I wait all of 5 minutes before getting frustrated with the lack of reply. “They have the ball now, I can relax”. Wait a minute, there’s a delay to the campaign? Shock. The lesson is that the agency can only be as proactive as the client and visa-versa. If the agency is waiting on something, then this means you will be waiting on something.

The key to client-agency relationship is understanding. The agency must understand the client’s restrictions, culture, and structure for example. Learning from my mistakes will ultimately help you, your business, and your agency to deliver your goals in a marriage made in heaven.

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