There are three main cycles in an agency client relationship:
- Briefing in work
- Project duration
Whilst this is a simplified view, and can often get more complicated if you have a retainer or multiple projects happening at the same time, by following the recommendations for each section you'll be able to reap the benefits of working with your agencies through more efficient and effective workflows.
Briefing in work
There are often the same complaints when it comes to briefing in or the initial stages of a project; there's been a lack of client research, there is a lack of understanding around the topic or content particularly in Investment and Finance, and most commonly; 'it's just… not what I had in mind…'
All of these things are highly frustrating, and normally come out of both Client and Agency being too busy (or a bit lazy) to complete a clear briefing process ad a breakdown in communication.
It might seem blatantly obvious, as often the best solutions are, but organisation always solves the communication problem. By starting each project, no matter the size, with these simple guidelines you should start to prevent reoccurring issues:
- How are you briefing your agency? Whether you have a set template or not, make sure timelines, budgets and KPIs are agreed upfront. This will not only help with managing the project generally, but also manage your agencies expectations. They can plan and book in the work in line with capacity and its more likely to be delivered to a higher standard.
- What other variables are reliant on the work you've briefed to the agency? And do they know about it? If other work or projects are reliant on that piece of work, letting the agency know ahead of the project will enable them to prioritise it if needed.
- Is there more than one agency involved in your project? If yes, it could be more efficient to bring them into joint meetings. This often makes delivery processes more efficient and shops the client being the middleman going between two or more agencies.
- Insist on consistency? Weekly status updates, monthly meetings and regular all helps making sure clear communication is kept up and projects stay on track.
- Does everyone know who is supposed to be talking to who within the teams? Miscommunication, chinese whispers and directing information at the wrong team members on either side can prolong and create unseen problems, just checking who the key stakeholders and decision makers at the start can smooth things over.
If you've missed any of the above in briefing your agency you will have likely experienced issues around attention to detail, lack of compliance understanding (again), missing deadlines, and To. Many. Emails.
Your agency should be making you feel like their main focus is on you, but the problem often is its actually not. Due to the way agencies are often set up, its likely your Account Managers look after multiple clients and often have to compete to book in work and keep projects on track. It's not an excuse, but there are ways you can pre-empt the common issues, so that if a project suddenly changes it the exception not the rule:
- Are timelines realistic: making sure you understand the lead in times and where there is and isn't flexibility is important in enabling your agency to provide work at a high standard
- Train people outside of the direct team: it might be your agency team understand compliance but in their internal sign off process a senior stakeholder might not - think about who else you might need to offer training to prevent push back
- Keeping on top of status meetings: a
small but effective tool in keeping communication flowing and often easy to let slip
The end of a project is often synonymous with reporting, but its also important to take the opportunity to review working practices and discuss opportunities to streamline processes moving forward.
To make your reporting as seamless as possible allow you to focus on reviewing and feedback, make sure you lay the foundations at the beginning of the project and with regular status updates and reporting they'll be no last minute surprises:
Create an equal two-way relationship: It can be easy to blame your agency for everything, but if you take the time to cultivate a close relationship it will encourage open communication and honesty.
Communication goes both ways: we know how frustrating it can be when an agency delays or doesn't come back, but make sure you are also being as transparent as you can and keeping them updated. Even just a heads up around delays can give them a chance to re-organise resource at their end and help manage delays or changes better.
Accountability: even through you've brought in an agency to work on a project, you are still part of the project team so keeping up with areas you can control will make a big difference.
Optimism: it may seem cheesy, but starting every new project or agency relationship with a positive outlook will make a huge difference.