Client-Agency Relationship: Finding A Method In The Madness For High-impact Results

No one hires an agency thinking that their relationship won’t be an easy one and both the parties will fail miserably to achieve the expected results. But so many times clients and agencies give the impression that they’re working as adversaries and not as partners.

Why’s There So Much Chaos?

1) Brief 

survey  by ANA found that clients and agencies are at loggerheads when it comes to assignment briefings. Only 27% of agencies believe clients do a good job (and 0% strongly agree!!) with clear assignment briefing. On the other hand, 58% of clients think they perform well on briefs. Another research finds that most advertisers believe that an ideal brief is the combination of a written and a verbal briefing. However, most of the times agencies have to work with verbal-only briefings with a short email or SMS as a way of written confirmation. To achieve the right digital success both the parties have to reach an agreement on how to cascade information from client side to agency effectively. Usually, on the client side, the briefing team includes marketing executive, sales executive, as well as product and marketing specialists. 

The person or the team who has the final say must be involved in defining the brief. It might be helpful to get the agency team on board in preparing the brief, although in practice this does not often happen.

2) Who’s accountable?

For bigger clients, often the internal team calls the shot – right from selecting the agencies and assigning KPIs to reviewing the project performance – this team has the ultimate authority. However, things start going awry when results aren’t along the expected lines. The internal team blames the agencies and the agencies blame the internal team or the other agencies involved. For instance, when a campaign fails the internal team blames the communication agency saying their messaging failed. And the communication agency in turn blames the digital agency saying the messaging was right; it was the digital agency that failed at getting the right reach. Ever heard of blame contagion?

There have been studies which found that when people saw others blaming someone else for mistakes they started doing the same thing. It’s socially contagious. In an experiment, half of the participants were asked to read a newspaper article about a failure by Governor Schwarzenegger who didn’t accept the responsibility of the failure and instead shifted the blame on others. Whereas a second group read an article in which the governor took full responsibility for the failure. The participants who read about the governor blaming others were more likely to put the blame on others for their own shortcomings, compared with those who read about the governor taking the full accountability of the failure. The research from the USC Marshall School of Business and Stanford University found that observing someone publicly blame an individual in an organization for a problem — even when the person has no mistake — greatly increases the chances that the practice of blaming others ( even when they’ve not done anything wrong) will spread the way H1N1 flu does.

One of the ways to avoid the blame game is to give full authority to the team that’s accountable. If the work isn’t done – they can fire an agency, they can outsource the work to another agency. In short, they can take all the decisions that will help them meet the business goals. But in the end, if the goals aren’t met, they can’t come back and shift the blame to a different team. 

3) Skill set mismatch

There’re 2 scenarios here -the first one is where the clients hire a specialised agency and then assign jobs that don’t fall under their expertise. For instance, if you are the client and you have hired a PPC agency or an SEO agency and then task them with brand positioning and messaging, then what results are you expecting from them? And the second scenario is when the agencies accept the work that aren’t their core expertise. Unfortunately, many agencies ( especially the smaller ones) can’t say NO because often in a client-agency relationship saying NO means burning your bridges. The relationship goes awry, the progress on the project stops, and the worst possible scenario the agency losing the contract. 

To achieve the right marketing success, there are different marketing components that need to be aligned with the business goals. For each component, you need a team that has expertise in that area. Now the important question here is – can a single agency support you with the required skill sets? If no, then how many agencies one should hire? Here’s our CEO’s take on the number of agencies a business needs to get the right marketing success.

4) Not setting the right KPIs from the start

KPIs are important for tracking the progress of your marketing efforts. But marketers often get so obsessed with the process of tracking KPIs that they don’t pay much attention to the assignment of KPIs ( what KPIs are they assigning and to whom are they assigning?)

When it comes to assigning KPIs you have to remember that you will be dealing with 2 types of agencies or teams –

If you’re dealing with a single agency, you’ve to decide whether they’re going to be KPI-level partner or you want them to help you with support work? When dealing with multiple agencies you have to decide which agencies will be sharing the KPIs and the ones that will be helping you with the support work.

When the agencies share KPIs

You win, the agencies will win

And when you lose they lose.

Also, it’s important to note that whatever KPIs the agencies are sharing – they should be responsible for preparing the strategy and execution plan for those KPIs. If they meet the KPIs – reward them. And if they don’t – penalize them. If you are hiring agencies for support work – then consider their quality of work, delivery time, and cost.

Successful advertiser and agency relationships require a lot of work, time, and resources. To get the highest returns, it’s important to continuously review the work and tweak the processes accordingly.