Account Strategy Director, Danielle Wesolowski, discusses the mindset of agencies and the importance of putting client needs first through a strategy centered on togetherness and collaboration.
Brands, have you ever felt the frustration of receiving a media plan or creative from an agency that was completely different from what you had envisioned?
Agencies, have you ever hung up after a client call feeling completely blind-sided about the direction and expectations for your campaign?
Misalignment between brand and agency teams can quickly build into frustration. How can we avoid the missteps that build tension between agency and brand teams and minimize the resulting efficiency losses that impact both companies’ bottomline? The work must start within teams so you can then develop clear collaboration between brands and agencies to support strong marketing strategies and positive collaboration.
Coegi has an internal framework surrounding everything we do called the Coegi Way. There are four pillars: attitude, approach, service and culture. Looking through this lens, let’s explore how to build successful brand-agency relationships.
Attitude: The Sky’s the Limit
When initiating a new brand-agency partnership, or just a new campaign, start your process with an open mind. Take time to collaboratively brainstorm with each other – considering out of the box options. Sometimes we become so process-oriented that we lose sight of the opportunities in front of us by sticking to the status quo.
Add regular brainstorms into your process to audit competition, evaluate future opportunities, and find new ways to leverage existing capabilities. The goal is to “put yourself in a position with clarity of mind to execute at high levels of efficiency, innovation, and real creativity”. Delight your client by reimagining possibilities for their brand.
Thought starters for impactful brainstorming:
- What are those things we would do if we could just remove the barriers?
- What’s keeping us from incredible innovation, real creativity, and surpassing client expectations–or our own expectations?
Approach: Empower and Align Teams
Approach your collaborative marketing strategy like a chess board: assess the field of play and then implement your strategy. Both brands and agencies must enable their teams to do great work. To enable means giving people the power to take action, but also giving strength and confidence.
While strong teams value individual contributors, they must work together cohesively as a unit to win. As an agency, each person on your team should be providing the same experience to the client no matter who they talk to. If a different answer is given depending on who you ask – the team needs to be realigned. The same goes for in-house marketing teams and executives. If the marketing manager or CMO approves a campaign and strategy, but the CEO enters the conversation at the last minute and vetoes key creatives or channels, this can cause major issues. Internal teams must be empowered to make decisions while understanding overall goals before they can effectively work with external partners.
Service: Understand the client’s needs
Agencies build lasting and trusting relationships with brands when they demonstrate a strong understanding of the client’s needs and provide tactical plans to act on those needs and deliver impactful solutions. The expectation we set for account team members at Coegi is,
“An individual should be able to demonstrate a full understanding of their clients’ business needs and translate this knowledge into an actionable cadence of strategic and tactical plans leveraging the strengths of integrated digital communication channels to deliver consistent, differentiated and valued customer experiences.”
This is crucial because 30% of marketing professionals surveyed believe not understanding their brand completely is the top barrier to successful brand-agency relationships, according to eMarketer.
We often take client requests and run with them, especially in performance media, where campaign activation is very both agile and ever-evolving. When possible, facilitate more discussions before the tactical phase to really understand client goals first and define the best way to reach those together. For example, when a client gives you a specific target audience, talk through the justification for focusing on that audience, explore other potential options, and ensure their plan is optimized to reach their goals and aligned with your capabilities as an agency.
Culture: Meet Clients Where They are Comfortable
Translate your culture as an agency or team to your client. Find similarities and ways to connect with brand teams to allow for both cultures to show and play off each other. Ensure you are opening the right communication channels to make your client comfortable whether it be group Zoom meetings, one on one phone calls, or short emails.
Keith Schwartz, CEO of Bounteous, quotes, “It’s really about forming a partnership where you can leverage the best of both organizations. Mature business leaders understand that having a partner that has knowledge capital about their industry and innovative trends creates a lot of value.”
A MediaCause article issues a warning, “ if you don’t establish a partner relationship from the start, you’ll more than likely forever be treated as a vendor.”
Never underestimate the importance of relationship building to gain trust with your client and go beyond that vendor relationship to become a true partner. Give them space to talk candidly about problems, ideas, and goals. Provide honest feedback to each other. You can gain so much more from the client and understand their true needs if you create these open communication opportunities.
To sum everything up, my advice is simply this: slow down and start collaborating.
For additional thought starters, take a few minutes to think through these questions and create a game plan to improve your brand-agency relationships today.
1) Where do you find the biggest challenges in understanding client needs?
2) What are the biggest barriers to developing strong and trustworthy client relationships?
3) What would you like to do differently to enhance those relationships?
By: Danielle Wesolowski, Account Strategy Director