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5 Questions Clients Are Asking About Their Agencies

by Meghan McDonnell, Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The client-agency relationship is a funny thing. On the one hand, you have a uniquely close partnership predicated on trust, common ground and shared goals. On the other, you have a tenuous, fickle arrangement fraught with questions. And for a while, “questions” were viewed as the enemy of the client-agency relationship. If a client was asking questions, it meant something was wrong.

Today if a client isn’t asking questions, or an agency doesn’t understand why questions are being asked, something is wrong. A marketer should always be asking questions—for the good of their advertising investment and to stay competitive. Likewise, an agency should recognize that transparency is not only a cost-of-entry practice in safeguarding a relationship, but also one of the best ways to win new work.

So, in the spirit of bolstering productive, healthy client-agency relationships, here are five questions we’re hearing right now from our clients. Questions they want asked and answered as they assess current agency relationships or perhaps even look for a new agency partner in 2017. 

1)    Are my agencies structured to deliver what my business needs?

Optimizing advertising resources is a full-time job for marketers. It’s not enough to hire an agency, put agreements in place during the first month, and then work together lackadaisically until seven years have passed. Every client should assess their agency model on a regular basis to determine if the needs of the brand are met.

Should we separate digital and media resources? How should we allocate responsibilities across our external agencies and internal teams? Do we need an AOR or specialized partners? Whether in a pitch or the throes of a successful relationship, these are the questions a client should ask, either on their own or with the help of a consultant.

2)    Does the agency have the right capabilities for our needs?

Clearly, an agency wants to provide any capability a client may require. But, the reality is the agency you hired for TV may not be the agency you need for digital. If your media budget shifts, take a hard look at your current resources and determine if they still fit the bill.

Maybe your “TV agency” has a leading-edge digital team. Maybe the digital chores should shift to your in-house group. Maybe it’s a new agency. And as part of your assessment, keep in mind that disciplines like digital—once considered an adjunct to a TV strategy perhaps—now require big, stand-alone ideas. So, be sure to ask, can my agency think big?

3)    Am I paying too much for my agency? (Or, am I paying too little?)

Clients (and agencies) are no strangers to the question—Am I paying too much? However, an equally important question, though not always considered is—Am I paying too little? As a marketer, review what you need your agency to do and ensure the staffing plan is aligned against those needs.

Is your work being done by a host of junior-level folks? Is your process plagued with inefficiency? Are you often dissatisfied with the agency’s ideas? You get what you pay for and you may be paying for the wrong team. Aligning your needs with the agency’s staffing plan may cost more, but will greatly improve the output.

4)    We have an internal and external agency—who does what?

The responsibilities of your in-house creative team and external partners are often in flux. That’s ok. A regular examination of marketing activities across various business units and agencies is a worthwhile exercise. And for many of our clients, cracks in processes emerge as part of their assessment. For instance, two disparate groups may be working on the same large-scale initiative, but never talk. Taking regular stock of your marketing organization inside and out will streamline communication and ultimately improve the work.

5)    Should I trust my agency?

2016 saw everything from media buying practices called into question to the Department of Justice investigating agency holding companies. Clients have every right to tread lightly and question how much they can trust their own partners. But rather than live in a constant state of worry, tangible steps can be taken to protect your brand and investment.

We work with clients to put the right contracts in place at the start of a new relationship as well as update agreements during the partnership. Establishing fair, transparent measures and expectations—auditing, triple bidding, incentives—ensure that you know the ins and outs of how your advertising and media dollars are spent, allowing you and your agency to get on with the business of building your brand.

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