A strong agency relationship will dramatically increase what you can achieve as an organization. It will also dramatically accelerate progress towards your goals. In fact, when an agency and and organization can partner together while allowing each group to do what they're best at, it can be transformative.
The trouble is, all of this doesn't come easily. It's hard to entrust a major portion of your marketing, communication, or fundraising efforts to an outside group. It's even harder to create an atmosphere where both teams can succeed.
Over the last decade, I've spent a good amount of time thinking about this. Here are 5 things I've learned during that time on how to make the most of this valuable relationship.
1. Build A Foundation Of Trust And Mutual Respect
Trust lies at the foundation of any strong relationship. And the agency-client relationship is no different. You likely hired your agency because you believed they could deliver results. Now it's time to trust that they will deliver.
Trust and respect for each other and your expertise will allow you to move forward quickly and efficiently. It will free you to rely on the work that each team is doing, without micromanaging each other. It will also set you up to have difficult conversations when you hit one of the inevitable bumps in the road.
2. Provide Clear Big Picture Goals
Agencies thrive when they're given the opportunity to solve problems. But, they need to know what problems are most important to you.
A good agency will sit down to talk about your big picture goals at the start of an engagement. You should spend some time thinking about what these big picture goals are. It's helpful if you can share goals that expand beyond the specific project at hand. If you can clearly articulate what you're hoping to get from the engagement, and how it links into the broader goals you have for your marketing program and organization, you'll unleash the abilities of your agency to do excellent work.
3. Let Each Team Do What They're Best At
Both your agency and your internal team have strengths. Constantly looking over each other's shoulders removes the efficiencies that come from working together. A now-retired past client would always emphasize that neither team should be trying to cross the other's "t"s or dot their "i"s. At that point they are just doing the same work. Instead, they should trust that the other is doing their job well, and come together at strategic points where collaboration makes sense.
4. Be Honest, Always
There will be inevitable moments where your agency relationship is tested. Maybe it will be a mistake on a key effort, maybe it will be a miscommunication between two members of a team, maybe it's a disagreement on strategy. In each of these moments, honesty is essential.
There's a temptation to smooth things over or deal with them later. Neither will help. Teams that can be up front and honest with each other at all times (keep mutual trust and respect in mind as you do this) will be able to proactively solve issues and come out stronger for them.
5. Make An Effort To Actually Like Each Other
This point is simple. No one is an automaton. We all have families, interests, and lives outside of work. It's what makes us people. Grab happy hour or dinner together. Get to know each other. Then, sit back and watch the impact this will have on your work together.
This marks the end of my 5 tips, but I realize that mine is only one experience. What have you found to work well as you've worked to get the most out of your agency?