This month I wanted to touch on the subject of the client-agency dynamic. I have more than 15 years’ experience working at a variety of different digital agencies across the globe and based on that experience, it’s clear to me that there is one universal fact that holds true irrespective of geography or discipline. Some clients get the best out of their agencies and some definitely don’t. Those who do, for the most part, demonstrate the positive approaches and behaviors outlined in this article. Those clients are in turn rewarded with superior results for their initiatives and agency teams that will crawl over broken glass to deliver for them.
1. A Written Brief
A written as opposed to a verbal or even no brief at all is a must. Even long-term agency-client relationships, where there is a very good, shared understanding of the brand and its priorities, benefit from a very clear written brief from the client. You’re busy – we get it, but so is your agency. Take the time and effort to write down your brief. This helps in several ways. Firstly, it will help you to organize your own thoughts, to double-check exactly what you and the organization wants, as well as helping to remove any confusion in those requirements. Most importantly, it should be able to be referred back to as a reference as the project moves through the various stages from strategy to creative to production and finally to sign-off.
2. A Realistic Budget
Believe me, not providing a budget because you want to get the cheapest possible price is not the way forward. You’re wasting everyone’s time by keeping budgets to yourself. The ideas and solutions you get back will either be too expensive and not possible to execute within your budget or “not big enough.” Tell your agency how much money you’ve got and are prepared to spend! While I firmly believe this to be the case, not everyone subscribes to this approach. There is definitely a school of thought that says “start big and then scale back.” If you subscribe to that approach, fine. But in the de-scoping exercise, you still need to be transparent on the budgets that you have available so that both you and your agency can find ways of saving money together, that doesn’t rip the heart out of the idea, or involve rounds and rounds of agency second-guessing with amended proposals. This process can be avoided by sharing budgets upfront and your agency will love you for it!
3. A Realistic Turn-Around Time
No one in your organization gives you realistic turn-around times – got it. But don’t pass on the pain by asking your agency to break their backs to get you what you need by tomorrow. They will, because you pay their wages and you’re their client, but what you get back will be ill-thought-through, rushed, and most probably not very good. However hard it is, you need to manage expectations internally to give yourself and your agency a realistic amount of time to respond with something worth spending money on that will actually meet the needs of the business.
4. Keep an Open Mind
The best ideas come from thinking laterally, keeping an open-mind, and being prepared to challenge preconceptions. If you want the best work, provide the brief, not the solution. Everyone has great ideas – you’ve got some awesome ones, but keep them to yourself until you see what you get back from your agency. That’s what you pay them for after all. You’ve got the authority to veto anything the agency pitches you, and if you think, having seen the ideas that come from your agency, that you’ve got something better, all good. But hear them out first and then throw your idea into the ring at the end.
5. Figure Out What’s in It for Them (Other Than Money)
And finally, it’s not all about the money for us agency folks. We’re motivated by lots of other factors: shiny gongs for our desks (and resumes); opportunities to do work that no-one has done before; chances to meet and work with interesting people and have new experiences within the brand and organization we are working for; the ability to travel [economy, overnight, on a weekend] to new places to shoot a fantastically low-budget piece of content. It’s amazing what can be done with almost no budget when non-monetary incentives are thoughtfully applied.
In summary, time and thought rather than the amount of money invested in an agency relationship will allow you to maximize your return. The work you get, the business results you obtain, the loyalty you command, all grow exponentially with each of these five tips applied.