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Two-way Street: The Client-Marketing Agency Relationship

employee's at a desk using a whiteboard

If you’ve ever worked with a marketing agency, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What could we do to make working together easier?” Nearly every client-agency relationship has experienced moments of misunderstanding, frustration, or a perceived lack of performance—both ways. On the other hand, almost every such relationship has also experienced big wins, strategic successes, and seamless collaboration.

While both parties may not always want to acknowledge this, the overall success of a client/agency relationship is absolutely a two-way street. Here are a few ideas that will help you foster a strategic partnership with your agency and allow you to truly get “the most” out of that partnership.

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Share the Big Picture

Agencies thrive when they are treated like an extension of your internal marketing team. Sure, it might feel nosy or intrusive when agencies ask question after question about your internal initiatives. It’s because they perform best when they have a grasp on the organizational and marketing big picture, not just context around a few assigned projects.

For example, if you are running paid ad campaigns on the side while your agency is also running paid campaigns for your product or service, those ads might be competing with one another and you might be losing money. Good agencies ask questions about internal or other partner agency work not to scheme and “take it over” but to ensure you are getting the most for your money and that the work they’re doing aligns with your goals for the greater success of the company.

Give Your Agency Access to Decision Makers

When you invite an agency to assist with big company initiatives, offer access to the decision makers who will ultimately make the big decisions. Working through multiple layers of supervisors dilutes the assignment and can lead to a loss in clarity and momentum. Sometimes, this process takes 5 to 10 times longer in larger organizations. Sounds exhausting, right?

Additionally, letting your agency present their work directly to the decision maker and address the tough questions might change your life. Agency subject matter experts, like creative directors and digital strategists, can get executives eating out of their hands – and make you look brilliant for getting them involved.

Give Your Partner Space to Succeed

You will get the most value from your agency when you give them the space they need to succeed. You might be thinking, “What do you mean by space?” It can mean a lot of things. “Space” can mean enough days in the timeline to deliver creative, forward-thinking work that performs. “Space” can mean the freedom to ideate concepts or campaigns without preconceived direction or tight guidelines. “Space” may mean new or different ideas beyond what was expected. Whether it is the newest marketing technology or artificial intelligence platform that will propel your business forward, don’t be afraid to tread into unchartered waters with your agency. If you let them, they can help make you the most relevant thought leaders in your industry. Give them an inch of trust, and any good agency will take that a mile.

Ultimately “Space” means you defining the what – the problem or opportunity – and trusting your agency to help define how to solve for it.

Respect the "Process"

Agencies have many processes. I get it, some of them are a total annoyance, from Statements of Work (SOWs) to rounds of revisions to project timelines to feedback delivery. You name it, there is a process. Agencies are paid to deliver efficient, yet strategic, work that performs. They do that by following processes and asking clients to do so as well within their partnership. Here are a few ways you can get the most from your agency in regards to process:

Live By the Project Timeline

Let’s say there is a business-critical launch date at the end of the timeline. The client has gone over by 5 days on the allocated review time, but still need the launch date to remain the same. Now it’s a lose-lose scenario. The agency has lost 5 days to deliver great, strategic work, but is still trying to live up to the timing and expectations of the original timeline. You will be an agency’s best friend if you stay on the timeline (they should, obviously, do the same), as that allows your agency to give you their best work all the time.

Consolidate Stakeholder Feedback

Let’s say there are 5 key stakeholders reviewing each project deliverable. If you or a member of your team aren’t collecting and synthesizing feedback, that means your agency will receive 5 different emails/notes with stakeholder feedback – perhaps even conflicting feedback. That adds agency time and expense and places you in a reactive stance of clarifying or defending contradictory feedback. If you or a member of your team can deliver a unified list of feedback from all parties, you will experience a higher degree of efficiency and quality – and probably receive many high fives from all.

Approval Means Approval

We as agencies set up approval milestones throughout the project to affirm agreement along the way. The last thing your agency wants is to surprise you with a final deliverable that you have never seen or strongly disagree with.

If you have approved a deliverable 3 weeks ago, please don’t come back and “un-approve.” Your agency has likely been building the entire project on that prior approved deliverable, and will be running around like a chicken with its head cut off to recreate the project from the ground up. Also, these “un-approvals” can cause great delays in the timeline and additional expenses down the road through change orders. You will get the greatest bang for your buck with agencies if your team’s collective approval is final.

Seek To Understand

You will get the most out of your marketing agency when you seek to understand the “why” behind their campaigns, concepts, or deliverables. Marketing agencies stay in business by becoming experts in the marketing game and staying ahead of trends, and we are here to share our expertise with you!

You can bet your bottom dollar that agencies have a strategic reason, proven research, or data backing our recommendations. They are here to provide ROI for your marketing dollars – and take that seriously. In fact, we love when clients seek to understand our recommendations, before shutting down them down or casting a quick judgment. Take a risk and trust the experts. It will pay off in the end.

Honesty is the Best Policy

This may seem basic, but the healthiest agency/client relationships are based on a foundation of honesty and transparency. To build a relationship of trust, tell your agency exactly what you are thinking, often. No sugar coating added. If you are disappointed with a recommendation, say so. If you are overjoyed with a project result, let them know. Be honest about budget and how the initiative fits into the overall strategy. Open lines of communication will influence intended behavior.

Wrapping It Up

If you want to get the most out of your marketing agency in 2019, I encourage you to put these tips into practice. While it may feel awkward or unnatural at first, I think you will be surprised at the impact they will have on your agency’s performance as you put them into practice.


Liz Gardener Team Photo at Element Three

After a few years at an agency in Cleveland, Liz made her way to Element Three, where she stepped in and stepped up in a big way, fully embedding herself in the everyday happenings of a multi-client roster.