Marketer / agency relationships

Marketer / agency relationships
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Most marketers have a string of agencies they rely on to deliver creative, digital, PR, media planning and buying for them. But how easy is it to manage these relationships? Is it taking up too much of their time?

Darren Woolley, founding partner and managing director, TrinityP3: YES

The problem is few marketers have a rigorous and detailed approach to agency management. And if they do, they rarely follow it.

Instead, agency management is only given the attention it deserves when the process or relationship fails and then gallons of oil are poured onto the squeaky wheel.

Instead of relying on a wish and a prayer, hoping that the relationship works well, not just with each agency but between the various agencies, marketers should have a program of regular performance and relationship reviews.

The type of review process you use depends on your needs, including the number of brands or business units, the size and diversity of your agency roster, the number of people in your marketing team, the geographic spread of the stakeholders or your need for collaboration.

These reviews do not have to be hugely time consuming or turgid. In fact, properly run and managed, they become opportunities for all parties to discuss and resolve existing issues and identify and implement new opportunities.

The irony is that with the right approach to agency management, the time taken would be much less, proving the proverb ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

Gaye Steel,  marketing director, Guihen Jones: NO

To harness the expertise and talents of agency partners, marketers need to invest time and provide leadership and guidance to their agencies. 

Experienced marketers set up structures and streamlined processes, with clear communication channels established up front in the development of the team approach to a client’s business.

Establishing a partnership approach with all suppliers is of paramount importance to the success of your business.

In my previous role as national marketing manager of McDonald’s Australia, managing a large brand with multiple stakeholders and agencies was critical to success. I was fortunate to have incredible talent work on my business, each agency working collaboratively, where the common goal was part of the ethos and the ‘ketchup in the veins’ ran through all of us.

Early involvement, communicating clear and consistent business priorities and understanding the broader business issues allows your agencies to know where they fit in and how they can collaborate and contribute.

It’s like the client writing an agency brief – the outputs can only be as good as the inputs. ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’.

It takes time to build trust and confidence amongst your agencies. They should be treated as part of your team. Time spent with your agencies should be viewed as an investment.

Rob Kain, general manager of marketing, Rebel Group: MAYBE

This is an interesting one as it always sparks debate within marketing functions.

The relationship between client and agency partners is key in delivering successful results for the business.

From our perspective, working with agencies allows us to tap into levels of expertise that we may not require all year round and it’s important for us to regularly be challenged with an external perspective – however uncomfortable that can sometimes make us.

As we continue to evolve the Rebel and Amart Sports brands and take our team, our customers and our agency partners on the journey, it’s essential that we are having a regular dialogue, working in the same direction and allowing our agency partners to access to all areas of the business – not just marketing.

Essentially, if we are focussed on where our brand is heading and treat our agencies as true partners, we find we’re not spending too much time ‘managing’ them as such.

And if we happen to all get out socially every now and then, that helps too.

Mark Ritson, associate professor of marketing, Melbourne Business School, and BRW columnist: MAYBE

Yes, but it may not be entirely their fault.

Once upon a time there was a dream of truly integrated agencies that offered everything from a one-stop-shop.

This, of course, turned out to be a load of balls and most marketers discovered that they had to use multiple people, agencies, cultures, objectives and meetings to get the job done.

So inherent in the management of any big brand in Australia is the need to also manage a rogues gallery of different, usually antagonistic, forces to get the job done.

Having said all that, marketers could make this task easier and less time consuming by doing three things better.

First, learn to do your job properly before you speak to agencies.

Most of the brand managers I meet in Australia haven’t done their research, segmentation, targeting, positioning or objectives before they brief their agencies – which is totally bonkers. 

Second, learn to brief properly.

Too many marketers over-brief agencies with specific creative recommendations about the solution they want to see. Keep your brief on the strategic level and let your agencies come back with the tactical options.

Finally, don’t become friends with your agency partners and go for dinner with them.  Be respectful of their efforts but run them very hard and keep asking them to come back again and again until you are happy.

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