Whose responsibility is it to set the ground rules for agency collaboration?

Andrew Pascoe

  • Head of planning, Hatched
Andrew Pascoe is the head of planning at media agency Hatched.

I’ve been working in media agencies for more than 20 years. In that time, the most productive and effective working relationships between agencies I have ever seen began with a marketer-led kick-off that laid out the rules of engagement.

If you’ve ever been in the room when you or a peer marketing head sat around the table with multiple appointed agencies, and clearly articulated everyone’s role, you know what I am talking about.

It seems crazy in this day and age that you should have to do this. But it’s your best insurance policy from agencies viewing collaborative projects as an opportunity to grow their revenue with scope creep. You want your agencies to focus on the business at hand rather than trying to screw each other over to bolster their own bottom line.

But as we all know, today’s CMOs are massively under the pump; there are a million things on your docket, which leaves playing agency referee at the bottom of your to-do list. The classic trope of the chief marketing office only spending five per cent of their time thinking about media suggests you’re not spending much more pondering how your agencies work together.

So how can do this without having to pour hours of your time into it?

If you can, bake it into the pitch process. Get your existing agencies in a room with the potential new recruits and explain how you’d like them to play together. Can they play nicely and collaboratively? Why not give them a problem to solve and see how they approach it?

If you’re auditioning a long list of potential partners, that might be a tall order so instead, make it part of onboarding and induction. Any good agency already proposes this in their onboarding schedule but often, it’s a platitude that gets skipped over. Don’t let that happen. It’s in the best interests of everyone involved to take the time and build the foundation for a long and successful partnership.

Measurement is also important. How do you want to measure the collaboration across your agency partners? Move beyond lip service and set the bar on a more granular level than the generic, ‘Is the agency open to collaboration?’ Set up KPIs from the outset and whenever there is reflection, feedback and review, revisit them.

Why not get your agencies to rate each other’s performance against these metrics? A 360 with a twist. From the creative to the suit, the planner and the PR lead, canvass a wider opinion and share those findings with all of your agency teams. After all, these are the people collaborating on a day-to-day basis rather than the MD or CEO of the agency.

Once you have established this approach, you can get out of the way and leave your agencies to it without wondering what’s going on behind the scenes.

Of course, it’s not all up to the client. Over here on agency side, we need to do our bit too.

When we get appointed, we should be asking how the marketer would like us to work with their other agencies. If there’s not a system in place, we can help to set one up. What a great way to add value and begin a good client relationship.

Whether we’re the new agency in the roster or the incumbent welcoming others to the fold, we can take the initiative to establish clear lines of communication with the other businesses on the books, even if the CMO hasn’t specifically laid out the ways of working.

It's the ultimate win-win-win. Agencies often get client referrals from other agency partners which is a cherry on top of better work output, better client relationships, and clearer roles. That also means less busywork. So let's start with giving some attention to rules of engagement, then everyone can get on with making the great stuff.

Tags: agency relationships, marketing operations management

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