Top tips to get the best from your agency - part 1

Let’s start with an apology…

Written by
Gill McLellan
May 18, 2012

I considered myself a fairly good client, until I went to work for an agency. Then I realised how many annoying things I’d done that must have caused grief. Let me retrospectively and sincerely apologise to all concerned.

Few clients are trained on how to work effectively with agencies. When you’re starting out, it’s hard to know what practical steps you can take to help your agency produce excellent work. So when I returned client-side, I ran training sessions for my colleagues to help them improve relationships with their direct marketing agencies. I have eight tips to help you generate excellent work with your agency. Though they were written for fundraising managers, I think the principles apply across sectors and agency types. I hope you can learn from my experiences.

Tip one: know what you want

Before you contact an agency, you must take some time to clarify exactly what you want the project to achieve. It may sound obvious but I’ve seen plenty of woolly briefs that change direction daily, so this is not universally done.

Don’t rush

When you’re a busy marketing manager, it’s easy to rush the work off your desk to make it the agency’s responsibility. The trouble is that when you actually spend a bit of time thinking about what you want, the brief changes and this can result in grief all round.

Clarify your objectives

Take a short time at the beginning of the process to clarify your objective(s). For example, we need to raise £100,000 from alumni by xxx date. Until you know what you want to achieve, you can’t possibly decide who is best placed to do the work. A clear objective will allow you to consider whether you actually need an agency at all for the project.

Do you need an agency?

Sometimes the best option is to keep a project in-house. This will depend on whether you have the necessary resources available. Don’t forget you need the relevant skills and you need them to be available within your planned timescales.

Check the budget

If you don’t have in-house resources available then you’ll need to work with an agency. And you must ensure you have sufficient budget for the work that needs to be done. Do not involve your agency with a project until you are sure what budget you have available.

Decide on the level of agency involvement

Once you are sure that working with an agency is the correct way to proceed, decide exactly what sort of involvement you need from them. Sometimes you may need to discuss this together to discover exactly what they can do for you. But you should have a rough idea of what level of involvement you want.

Do you need strategic advice or tactical delivery?

Do you need strategic advice on fundraising channels to help draft a marketing plan for next year or do you suddenly have a press ad booked which must be supplied in two days? The agency will approach these two jobs in different ways.

Other key factors to consider

You also need to define any other key factors that will have an impact on the project.

  • What are the main project deadlines? There may be intermediary deadlines that matter as much as the final deadline.
  • How much budget is available for this work? Do you want a Mini or a Rolls Royce project?
  • Who will sign off the work at each stage? This often influences your deadlines.

If you are continually contacting your account handler to change what you’ve already told her or him that you want, it creates unnecessary work for the account handler (and perhaps the planner and/or the creative team). Over time she can’t help but delay briefing your work as she will expect it to change. As a result, the planners and/or creative teams may not get as much time on your project as possible.

Avoid changing your mind over and over again…

I’m not saying you can’t make any changes once a project starts. Sometimes changes happen that are out of your control. This is partly what makes marketing an interesting career choice and it is not a problem. Just don’t make a habit of creating extra work for your agency because you’re insufficiently prepared.

Hold a pre-brief discussion

I’m not saying that you can’t involve your agency at a very early stage to help formulate your objectives – without a doubt it can often be useful to kick ideas around. But you must be clear that this is what you are doing with them and manage their expectations.

And a final checklist

What are the project objective(s)? 

Do you need an agency at all?
Have you sufficient budget to achieve your objectives?
Can you afford to pay for an agency to help deliver the project?
Is there enough time to deliver the project?
What level of agency involvement do you need?
What are the main project deadlines?

Preparation is vital

Prepare yourself before you involve an agency and discuss the issues with them upfront. Then your project will start off in a clear and well-defined manner. This will help your agency do the best possible work for you. And it will help prevent difficulties later in the project.

Next: tip two – brief your agency well

This article was originally posted on Gill’s blog

About the author: Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan is a senior planner with Tangible, an integrated marketing agency. Previously she has worked for some of the UK’s biggest charities and has worked as an account handler and planner on the agency-side. She also spent four months volunteering for Raleigh International in Borneo.

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