Three ways to manage successful inter-agency relationships

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Digital marketing is so broad that you’re unlikely to find a single agency that’s mastered everything. These tips will help you balance multiple relationships.

There’s no shortage of talk about industry consolidation, agencies of the future and which business model will win out. The truth is, it’s unlikely that one marketing partner can do it all.

As brand marketers try to better serve their customers, it often means distributing work to multiple partners based on specific expertise versus leaning on one partner to do it all. In this environment, agency partners, technology providers and consultancies all must work together to better serve their clients.

It has never been easy to hire one agency that could blend technology and agency work to successfully deliver direct marketing. And digital makes it even more challenging. Brands are asking for integrated technology, creative and strategy to reach their customers. They now require specialized agencies to fulfill on specific needs or areas of expertise like mobile, social and SEO.

Any way you slice it, in most cases, a full integrated campaign requires inter-agency cooperation. Brand marketers that succeed in this new environment of endless partners require clear focus and direction in-house, as well as commitment and cooperation from their agency partners.

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How can you succeed in this environment? Consider these three areas, paramount to your success when working with multiple agencies:

1. Know your priorities

Do you value creative above all else? Are you using your digital channels to support the entire customer journey from acquisition to service to upsell and retention and therefore require a rock solid production environment?

Every organization places a different level of value on different areas of their business. An iconic brand like Coca-Cola probably makes a large investment in creative and above-the-line advertising to continue to drive their brand message and brand recognition. Meanwhile, a company like Zappos, which puts customer service front and center, is expectedly making different decisions when it comes to fulfilling on their key objectives around customer experience.

Putting an eye toward this type of focus might sound rudimentary, but it’s still a challenge many organizations face especially as new social, mobile and even virtual reality tools pop up. No brand has the budget to invest in “best of” agencies across all disciplines; it’s not scalable.

Your organization must be in agreement on what areas warrant this type of agency investment. This also means you’ll need to hire other agencies to help fulfill on additional needs. And someone needs to be responsible for managing those relations.

2. Have a designated project manager

In the world of digital and technology, agencies play a crucial role in your ability to deliver the best customer experiences and personalized marketing. But successfully managing agencies requires resources.

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An inter-agency project manager, who is focusing on profits and losses, is critical to the success of your projects and your business. For example, if your creative agency comes to the table with a big idea, you need to make sure your tech team is there to set realistic expectations on the cost to executive these creative plans. A project manager will help to ensure the right people have a seat at the table. Together, all three parties can ensure that smart decisions are made to keep the project in scope.

If you don’t have the resources internally to serve this role, designate an agency partner to do so. Don’t leave it to your partners to duke it out.

3. Set clear direction for your agency partners

Companies continue to evolve in the marketing and advertising space and most are growing to offer a breadth of technology and services. This means your partners will come with many opinions on digital, direct and social, and they’ll begin to compete to expand their scope of work.

You need to play an active role in articulating the requirements of each partner to establish roles and ensure alignment. I see it work best when inter-agency meetings are a regular occurrence to share ideas and agree on a consolidated approach.  When you’re looking to bring in new partners make it a requirement that they work with your other partners to jointly present a new idea. I’ve seen this work really well.

With the increased reliance on partners to succeed in today’s digital world, you need to be able to effectively manage these relationships to deliver the best experiences for your customers. And as providers, we need to be committed to inter-agency relations that allow you to better serve your customers.

Lisa Henderson is managing director of client services at Epsilon.

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