Brands Deserve Better Media
A column from @tomjdenford
Are your agency partnerships built for resiliency and growth?
In the pursuit of growth, few relationships are as crucial for a brand company as the one between the marketer and their agencies. Establishing, nurturing, protecting, improving, and fostering a productive relationship requires effort that is often disregarded or undervalued.
Those who understand the importance of investing in the marketer-agency relationship and successfully grow it will reap the rewards. Personal fulfillment, meaningful work, and company growth will follow.
For over a decade, ID Comms has dedicated over 10,000 hours to assisting marketers in creating, developing, and nurturing strong connections with their media and advertising agencies. Here's what we've learned, so you can too.
Investing in agency relationships
Navigating the landscape of media and advertising requires more than just strategic planning and effective campaigns. At the core of success lies the relationship between advertisers and agencies. Robust and enduring advertiser/agency relationships are pivotal to getting the best possible results from your media and advertising investments.
Exceptional behavior from both advertisers and agencies is vital, with a focus on strategic partnership rather than a mere transaction, akin to any long-term commitment with high financial stakes. Invest with purpose so that it can grow. If you treat it like a disposable commodity then that’s how everyone will behave.
Identify the points of weakness
Before we dive into tips for lasting success, let’s identify areas where advertiser/agency relationships tend to falter. We’ve seen many times how agency relationships can break in predictable ways and in common places. Here are three to consider:
1 - Power imbalance: Strains arise when there's a perceived power imbalance, often with the agency in a subservient role rather than a strategic partner to the advertiser. This places expectations on the advertiser to ‘always be leading’ and so the agency stops challenging, stops thinking, becomes scared and mirrors the advertiser. This loses the purpose of having an agency in the first place and is a certain road to ruin.
2 - Lack of clarity: Issues emerge when goals and objectives lack clear definition. Ambiguity in the scope of work leads to misunderstandings and unmet expectations. Taking time to define the KPIs for shared success really pays off. It is what the relationship must be built from, and what it will fall back on when things get tough. Do that hard work upfront.
3 - Neglecting small issues: Allowing minor problems to fester without proper forums for discussion and correction can escalate, leading to a breakdown in the relationship. It's important to track the status of the relationship regularly, identify gaps and address them together.
Roadmap for resilient relationships
Now, let's explore some actionable tips for both advertisers and agencies to foster relationships that stand the test of time:
FIVE tips for advertisers:
- Share success metrics: Advertisers should openly communicate personal and professional success metrics. If the agency understands their client’s motivations it will help align all agency activities and efforts with those goals. There should be no room for confusion. As we say often “clarity is motivation.”
- Fair remuneration: Pay agencies fairly and ensure the remuneration structure aligns broadly with the value generated. This means some form of shared reward that recognizes the agency's contribution to delivering the agreed KPIs. Agencies paid fairly and transparently will seek to be perceived as partners, not just service providers.
- Trust but verify: Don’t assume your relationship is always working productively just because the agency is busy and smiling. You must trust your agency’s leadership team to serve your needs, fulfill your scope and grow your business. BUT, check in frequently, both formally with quarterly business reviews and informally by spending time with your agency leaders. Trust your instincts, if it doesn't feel right then take steps to verify your agency’s performance. We perform regular, objective checks on behalf of advertisers to help them verify all is well.
- Exhibit good behaviors: Advertisers should exhibit positive behaviors, including being respectful, and inclusive, and investing time in proper briefing. These behaviors lay the foundation for a positive advertiser/agency dynamic. If the marketer sees value in the agency then humanizing that relationship as an extension of their own team will pay benefits.
- Regular discussion forums: Establish regular forums for discussion and course correction. Waiting until the end of the year for performance reviews is insufficient. There must be regular, objective service evaluations where both parties are invested in maintaining and growing a healthy and productive relationship.
FIVE tips for agencies:
- Be genuine about your relationship goals: If you truly want to be a trusted strategic partner for the brands you serve, then act like it. There is no room for opaque practices, intentional complexity, patronizing attitudes and all the other bad agency behaviors. Put the advertiser's interest in line with your own, be a great service business, and succeed together.
- Communicate success metrics: Agencies should also communicate what success looks like for them. Transparency about goals and expectations helps align efforts with the client's vision. Find a common ground. A great agency relationship is built upon the idea that you can both find success together.
- Advocate for fair remuneration: Agencies should advocate for fair remuneration and a structure that reflects their role as partners. Help educate your clients on how agencies should make money based on the value they create. Progress is better than perfection in this area.
- Encourage positive client behaviors: Agencies should encourage positive client behaviors, such as embracing innovation, championing the agency internally, and valuing creativity. In our experience that starts with the scope of work, so the language used in the scope needs to accurately reflect what the brand actually needs. Vague terms like ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ can be interpreted in too many ways. Be specific on what those mean for each brand.
- Regular forums for course correction: Establish regular forums, such as quarterly business reviews, to address issues and proactively course-correct the relationship. We would like to see more agencies investing in these forms of relationship management. Too often they are regarded as the advertiser’s responsibility which makes the agency defensive and causes the process to be ineffective.
Successful advertiser/agency relationships are built on a foundation of clear communication, mutual respect, and a shared commitment to success.
By understanding potential pitfalls and implementing the recommended tips, clients and agencies can contribute to creating thriving, long-term partnerships in the dynamic world of media and advertising.
Brands deserve better partnerships. When brands get the agency partners they deserve they flourish.
When brands grow, we all win!
This post was featured in ID Comms’ column, Brands Deserve Better Media. In this column, the ID Comms team shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.
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