It’s probably one of the most stressful parts of the job of the digital strategist; namely navigating an ecosystem of multiple agencies all executing work on behalf of the client. Under the wrong set of circumstances it can be wasteful, counterproductive, bureaucratic and frustrating. But when it is done well, it can be enormously rewarding and productive. Here’s your guide to surviving and even thriving in this type of an environment.
Let’s get this out of the way first. A client does not appoint a new agency because everything is awesome. New agencies are brought in because something is broken or isn’t working as well as it should. This can even be because the existing agencies have grown tired and complacent, if not entirely incompetent. That means that the new agency is disrupting an environment that is already stressed due to a lack of alignment or performance. Also, recognize that the new agency is not filling a literal void. It is taking the place of someone else, no matter how imperfectly they were occupying it. This makes any incumbent agencies extremely nervous and defensive.
Also recognize that from the moment you enter this relationship, there is someone else that is constantly looking for ways to replace you. This can be one of the incumbent agencies, or it could be someone entirely new.
What type of problems can manifest in this environment? First, there is the lack of transparency of data. Because people feel threatened, it means that they protect access to data. After all, the person that controls the data also controls the narrative. In a data driven exercise like digital marketing, this is one of the most valuable assets.
The second issue is that the best or most disruptive ideas are not given a fair chance to succeed. In a lot of instances, the idea is multi-disciplinary in nature. When different agencies control different channels, they can implement their respective sections in a half-hearted way, either slowing down implementation or compromising results.
The third issue is speed. Getting everyone aligned around ideas or implementation takes more time than just doing it yourself. Again, this can lead to partial implementation or deep inefficiency.
So what are your options? One option that many clients opt for, precisely to avoid these stresses, is to assign a conglomerate as agency of record. While this reduces the inter-agency friction, you end up in a situation where you aren’t enjoying the best of breed ideas and results that niche independent agencies bring.
Assuming the client has made the right decision and brought in multiple agencies, here’s the 6 principles for navigating multiple agency relationships.
The first principle is to remember who you work for. This isn’t your agency, it’s the client, and their respective clients. Always reminding yourself of this fact will drive you to do the right thing and to constantly find ways to innovate and deliver value. It will also force you to act selflessly, offering insights or support that either reinforce the ideas of others or helps them to succeed. This does not go unnoticed, and the fact that this is a fairly unusual approach in these types of relationships makes it memorable.
The second principle is to constantly look for gaps, either in thinking, execution or results. No agency was ever fired for having good ideas or insights. These gaps need not only be in areas under your purview. Remember that you are focused on delivering results for your client by creating highly connected and relevant experiences for their audience. So look for those gaps, and highlight potential solutions and opportunities.
That brings us to the third principle, which is to never identify a gap without offering up a solution. Clients love solutions. The ideas and creative thinking that agencies bring are the core reason we are hired in the first place. Delivering on this gives the client ever more reason to keep you around. And more importantly, it ensures that you are more likely to achieve the client’s objective. What’s more, don’t be afraid to have another agency execute on the idea. Just be sure to keep an eye on the execution and make sure it was done correctly.
The fourth principle is to be strategic in your communications. In other words, when encountering resistance to the idea, explain how it ladders up to the client’s objective. Reminding them of the objective, and showing how this helps support that objective makes it far more difficult to argue against. It also helps to remind everyone who they all work for, namely the client.
The fifth principle is to establish and keep within clear communication protocols. All agencies need to agree on the data source they will all use as a reference. They should also agree on frequency of communication and format so that there is no miscommunication. But there should also be clarity that if things aren’t going the way they should there will be additional communication and escalation to the client. But when you have to do this, ensure that the reasons for doing so are the right ones, namely that this escalation is to alert the client that if something doesn’t change, they will not achieve their objectives.
The sixth and final principle is to focus on your strengths. Most agencies will look for ways to expand their services to the client and make themselves indispensable. There is nothing wrong with doing this, but ensure that when you put yourself forward for additional work, it is because you sincerely believe you are better at executing it than the incumbent agency. If this is not the case, and if you can’t articulate it credibly in this way, then it will simply look opportunistic and will damage your relationship unnecessarily. But if you genuinely believe that taking on more responsibility is in the client’s best interest, then you owe it to them to put yourself forward. After all, clients hate a vacuum in delivery, and outside agencies love nothing more. Remembering that, and applying these 6 principles will help you thrive in multiple agency relationships, a key role of the digital strategist.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.