Business-agency relationships are more prevalent than ever. To navigate today's complex marketing ecosystem, many businesses partner with an agency to draw upon the specialized expertise only an agency can provide. Many brands view the partnership simply as a tactical one which can help to support specific organizational goals. This lens is a natural one to view the partnership through, although a client-agency relationship can be so much more and has the potential to provide significant energy to an organization.
We sat down to talk about the agency and business relationship with Shawn Lowe, VP of Products & Partnerships. Shawn touches on how business and agency relationships are shifting in order to achieve common goals, and how you can be sure both you and your team are getting the most from your agency relationship.
Question: Why would a business ultimately decide to partner with an agency?
Shawn: I think it all starts with a realization that marketing and advertising is key to the short-term and long-term success of a business. For many organization the aspirations and the ability to execute on the vision are simply unrealistic. Some will attempt it internally and fail, while others will succeed, and others will come to a realization that tapping into a partner who is highly specialized in executing on a marketing/advertising vision is the most effective route for their organization.
The criteria will vary wildly from company to company, but generally a financial, talent, and opportunity cost evaluation will take place.
Question: What’s your strategy for introducing agencies with marketing teams?
Shawn: First and foremost, we need to establish a personal relationship with a client. Understanding who they're working with and getting to know them as a person is critical. It's important for us to ensure that when teams work together, they have a foundational relationship which allows a deeper working relationship to develop over time.
We then look to discuss an organizations goals and concrete objectives, if they exist, and try to determine how they would like to work with us as an agency partner.
What aspirational things are they looking to accomplish? And what are the critical steps to take to get there? The most important thing an agency can do for a new client is to understand the big picture—what's the root of the issue they're trying to solve?
From there, it’s all about creating a two-way dialogue to clearly align our visions and determine how we can interact with their team and support them in a way that is seamless.
We aim to create not only the notion of support, but a true partnership which is built on collaboration. Our role is to ultimately be poised as a resource to help get the job done.
Question: What is your approach to communication between all members of the marketing team with the agency?
Shawn: Communication between client and agency should be as open and honest as if the client was communicating within their own team/department. The two teams should treat each other no differently than if they were truly working at the same organization. Both parties should have the same accountability and be treated with the same level of respect.
In terms of frequency of contact, it depends on the level of complexity with the engagement. We like to approach the frequency purely based on the needs of our client, although we will recommend minimum frequencies which we feel will be critical to the success of our clients.
Question: Any tips and tricks you can share on “motivational” tactics?
Shawn: Every team is unique so there isn’t a one size fits all approach here. That being said, there are some common techniques to help co-motivate the teams.
First, when wins occur, it’s important for both parties to celebrate them. Remember that you're on the battlefield together as a team. The agency is there to light that fire, and to push the business into new, alternative ways of thinking. When the teams celebrate their victories together, it’s a great opportunity to foster co-motivation.
Also, providing the correct context, when appropriate, can make the difference between a disconnected relationship and one where both parties are on the same page.
We commonly enter into engagements with clients in which we are providing a hyper-targeted approach to address their business objectives. Simply commenting to a client that we are planning to leverage Facebook or Google, in many cases, would be sufficient. But providing the “why” context changes the recommendations' impact on the client dramatically, helping to unlock deeper understanding and knowledge within their business.
It isn’t uncommon for someone who may feel unfamiliar with a subject to hold back questions. People naturally do this but being aware of it is critical. Take the time to ask for questions and identify cues that questions may be present. This will help give everyone the context they need to proceed and will also help ensure that everyone's on the same page.
Finally, I can't over-stress the importance of collaboration! Over the past number of years, the team at Time + Space has worked hard to develop deep relationships with our partners. In many cases, this has resulted in the agency team being welcomed into what I would classify as “atypical” meetings. Those meetings have driven brainstorming sessions which resulted in significant course changes for variables such as product development, messaging, adjustments in corporate priorities-- the list goes on and on.
The important point to note here is that when we reflect on our historical successes, the central theme is the partner and the agency involving each other in discussions that they wouldn’t normally be a part of. This has driven both collaboration and innovation-- which is good for the partner, the relationship, and the long-term health of the business.
Question: Is there a tried and true method for delivery of feedback to keep everyone comfortable?
Shawn: The magic word here is empathy. Before anything else, understand the team’s needs and wants right away. This can be on the individual level, as well as the big picture level. It’s important to understand what the fundamental ask is. This makes it easier for both parties to approach feedback in an honest, yet non-judgmental way.
Gone are the days of hiring an agency to produce deliverables in a bubble. It’s time to approach the engagement of an agency like adding a new department to your office. The best work is borne of collaborative, open, and motivated environments in which all team members are fully invested. Treating working with an agency as a chance for your employees to learn and grow is an excellent way to ensure quality work and successful projects and get the most out of your partnership.
Interested in learning how Time + Space can help your organization and team? Feel free to contact us here.