As part of the 2014 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, RPA Advertising presented "The Naked Truth: An Unadulterated Look at the Agency/Client Relationship" in partnership with USA TODAY. 

Marketing is all about communication, which is why the often-disconnected agency-client relationship is so paradoxical. Without a doubt, there’s culpability on both sides of the equation, best shown in the satirical video shown above.

All jokes aside, clients can take action to prevent this kind of disconnect, and it all starts with communication!

 

1 - Clients can and should talk to their agencies about the big picture priorities

Many brands have trouble with marketing agencies when it comes to goal alignment. Clients often give agencies tasks, the agency carries out said task, and then the client is unsatisfied with the result. 

Establishing an overarching goal with marketing agencies at the beginning of a project or relationship can greatly impact the agency’s approach to a given task. For example, if a brand communicates to their agency that the overarching goal is customer experience, the agency may have tasks focused on social media during one phase of work and a redo of the brand’s website during another phase. If the agency knows from the beginning that the goal is customer experience, their day-to-day tasks will have more context and ultimately, enable them to take a strategic approach to address the overarching goals. 

Related: How to Manage the Multi-Agency Model

 

2 - Clients have the right to clarify which agency resources should be used for specific work on their business

Every marketing agency wants to win a pitch - that’s no secret. Agencies will often bring their “A-team” to the pitch, sell the client, and then execute work with more junior talent. From the perspective of the client, this is extremely misleading! It feels like bait and switch. Agencies fail to understand that this kind of behavior does not exactly lay the groundwork for a long-term, collaborative client relationship built on trust.

Related: Agencies are from Mars, and Marketers are from Venus

For marketers on the client side, it’s best to start with open communication about which resources/people will be used. Clients should ask productive questions about who will ultimately manage the relationship and execute the work.

 

3 - Clients should define agency capabilities, strengths, and limits upfront and utilize the agency for its strengths

Marketing agencies are notorious for biting off more than they can chew. In other words, if a client asks the agency to take on a project in which they have little or no experience, they will often take it on in an effort to grow the agency skill set and staff.

Related: 7 Critical Questions You Need to Ask Yourself before Hiring an Agency

In order to avoid a marketing agency taking on a project outside of their wheelhouse, the client should define agency capabilities upfront. By preemptively addressing agency capabilities, strengths and limits, clients can have a clearer picture of what to expect from their agency.

 

4 - Have an open discussion about the costs for various tasks

Brands shouldn’t allow marketing agencies to deliver services as a “loss leader.” If a project has an unusually cheap price tag, it is usually sold in anticipation of making up the difference in profit with the next scope of work. Conversely, it is not easy for agencies to recover from undercharging. When this happens, they typically overcharge on the next project, or continue to undercharge and deliver subpar work. 
Having an open and transparent dialogue about real costs and appropriate margins can be uncomfortable, but it pays off in the relationship’s longevity.

As the client, ask questions about how the ideas presented by the agency can scale up and down from a cost standpoint to establish a reasonable starting point for a project. Some questions a client may want to explore include:

  • How will the agency handle revisions/changes?
  • What tasks are included in fees, and which require change orders?

 

5 - Clients should convey the internal dynamics of their company

Many client-side marketers fail to convey the internal “politics” within their company that may have an impact on agency work. Many agencies fail to ask. It is useful for marketing agencies to understand a brand’s politics, the correct communication channels, and the context of the primary client and the agency’s role within the larger picture of the company. 

Related: The Ultimate Onboarding Guide for a New Agency

 

If you’re having trouble finding a reputable marketing agency, we can help. AgencySparks ignites meaningful connections between marketers and thoroughly-vetted agencies. Contact us for introductions. To receive content updates from AgencySparks, click here to subscribe!

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