Have I told you lately that I love you? Part two

OK, so you’ve done your strategic speed dating (also known as a pitch), and it’s time to get on with some proper work.

Written by
Derek Humphries
May 18, 2013
With a few simple dos and don’ts, you can continue the honeymoon period with your agency.

All being well, you’ve genuinely fallen in love with an agency. All being well they will be making you feel that they only have eyes for you. Even so, before gettinginto bed you may want some form of pre-nuptial agreement. It’s not vital. It’s not always necessary. But it’s generally a good thing to know what you both expect from the relationship. So whether it is a formal contract or a simple exchange of dos and don’ts, you may want to specify:

  • The team: who exactly will do the work, pick up the phone to you, come to meetings, etc.
  • What will it cost? Precisely.
  • Any specific service level agreements.
  • Financial constraints and targets.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Copyright.
  • Review periods.

They may sound like passion killers but, hell, let’s hope this isn’t a one-night stand.

Let the honeymoon commence!

Oh darling, tell me it will be this way forever!

Of course it will, so long as we have clear relationship principles, well-defined areas of responsibility and well-understood lines of communication.

This is all about expectation management, much of it relating to how you will inspire each other and manage things, such as:

  • Briefs, contact reports and other documentation: I’ve worked with clients who find contact reports a waste of time and money. I’ve worked with others who want every phone conversation confirmed in an email. One size does not fit all.
  • Schedules/approval procedures: how much time does the client need to approve things and the agency need to produce things? We all know that the quickest way to screw up a relationship is to be late.
  • Budgets/inclusions and exclusions.
  • Two-way inductions: the agency wants to become an expert in your cause, so how can you help them?
  • How to transfer your enthusiasm for your work to your agency. How can you best inspire the agency? ‘I will give them copies of my past 10 annual reports and direct them to my website’ tends to be the wrong answer.

And amongst all this, don’t forget to get to know each other. Social time together is generally time well spent.

It’s worth bearing in mind that when you appoint an agency, you should let any of your other existing agencies know. There’s nothing so unseemly as the confrontation when an agency says: ‘So, I hear you’re seeing someone else.’

Beneath their ultra-confident façade, agencies can be delicate flowers, so try to communicate clearly why you are working with multiple agencies, what their various remits are and the extent to which you need them to play well together.

And agencies get over it. Concentrate on excelling in the brief you have, rather than worrying about the brief someone else has.

Key time you will spend together with your agency, or agencies, is in meetings. Meetings matter. They can be a monumental waste of time. Or they can be brilliant. Think about what sort of meetings you need, what are they for, how often, where, chaired by whom, attended by whom and what prep and follow-up is required?

Despite all of the above, the relationship may sometimes go wrong. In terms of things going wrong, I’ve tended to find there are two great ways to annoy clients:

  1. Be later than you promised
  2. Be more expensive than you promised.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never made these mistakes. But I hope I make them rarely these days.

But what else can go wrong? Given that any client-agency relationship is a complex mix of chemistry, art, maths and logistics, well, plenty can go wrong. Here are some things to try to avoid:

  • Moving the goalposts: changing the brief mid-way through the project.
  • Sweeping problems under the carpet: if there is a problem address it as early and objectively as you can.
  • Changes of personnel: when a client asks to meet the people who will work on their business, try to make sure that these are the people who will work on their business.
  • Indecision: I’ve never worked on the client side. Strikes me it’s a bloody tough job. Nevertheless, try to give the agency strong and consistent direction.

I’m sure you can suggest many other ways to screw up a relationship. But whenever problems arise, it’s best to:

  • Always raise the issue – always. Your relationship with the agency forms the basis for how you do this.
  • Describe the problem, but wherever possible try to avoid direct criticism of an individual.
  • Then listen, there is rarely fault on one side only.
  • Agree actions to rectify the problem for client and agency.
  • Specify a time period for improvements.
  • Review and move on.

Lest we end on a negative note, I wanted to finish by looking at what happens when it all goes right. It does happen. Back in the 1980s and 1990s I worked for many years with Greenpeace. It went right, sometimes very right. So consequently, at the end of each year, I asked the client what we needed to change, how could we ensure we never became complacent? Sometimes we changed things, and sometimes we didn’t. But I hope we never took each other for granted.

Overall, I would say there are four key issues when things are going well:

First, let each other know.

Second, try to work out why it’s going right and pass on what you’ve learned. People happily spend time analysing failures, but not enough time analysing and learning from success.

Third, celebrate! I am not aware of any fundraisers or agencies that think their jobs got lots easier in the past few years. So success is worth celebrating. It creates landmarks in your relationship and creates a shared sense of teamwork.

Finally, don’t get cosy or complacent. Take time to ask if even the best relationship needs to change in some way.

Derek's article first appeared in 101.Fundraising

About the author: Derek Humphries

Derek Humphries

Derek Humphries spent 14 years with the marketing and communications group Burnett Associates, eight of those as managing director. For the past few years he has been a director at DTV where he writes and produces films for good causes worldwide. You can follow his tweets @derekhumphries.

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