It’s not uncommon these days to bring multiple agencies together on a single assignment.
But that wasn’t always the case, or if it was, it usually came with silos and the potential for a lot of drama. The ad agency developed the creative and bought the space. The direct mail firm produced the materials and managed the lists. The public relations firm conceptualized the “big stunt” and pitched the media. And if there was collaboration it was often forced and with an eye toward who got the budget, drove the strategy and had the client’s ear. Not exactly the model for productive partnership.
And that’s if there were multiple agencies to begin with. For some, especially those with lots of pressure from the CEO and Board, the perceived comfort of having “one name on all the doors” was compelling even if the people behind those doors never actually worked with (or even met) each other prior to the assignment.
You’d think that the evolution of the integrated firm combined with the breaking down of geographic boundaries would inhibit partnering. After all, what sustainable agency these days doesn’t have some degree of multi-channel integrated capabilities, and what firm doesn’t serve clients across multiple geographies?
In reality, we’ve seen partnering actually INCREASE over the years based on two key factors:
- Clients becoming more and more comfortable with bringing multiple resources to the table and recognizing that one name on all the doors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get strong collaboration.
- Some agencies – those with a high “BEQ” (Business Emotional Intelligence) – have gotten smarter about their own businesses and recognized that there are things that they’re good at and things that are better left to others.
These two factors have helped to increase the amount of multi-agency client partnerships – even when those agencies might consider themselves competitors on other assignments.
Through Padilla’s long-standing membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group, and by collaborating with our sister agencies as part of our AVENIR GLOBAL network, we’ve learned a lot about what makes for a successful agency-to-agency partnership. Here are some guidelines we follow:
- Respect the Lead Agency. There’s no such thing as a completely equal partnership – someone has to lead and others need to respect that lead role – and clients need to step forward and actually NAME a lead. The concept of “letting them work it out” just breeds unnecessary conflict.
- Role Clarity. Just as with naming a lead, partners need to have an open dialog about who will be responsible for what. Do multiple partners have the capability to perform the task? Certainly, but not everyone can do everything.
- Mutual (and Agreed-Upon) Financial Benefit. All partners deserve to be compensated for their contributions in the manner that they are accustomed to. One partner shouldn’t decide what other partners can charge, and clients should recognize that different types of firms have different business models.
- Agree on Method. There are lots of ways to get things done, and every firm has its processes for ensuring quality, efficiency and the best possible outcome. Have the discussion, pick a method (whether the lead partner’s or someone else’s), and then work to it.
- Ask for Feedback. Partners check in with each other. If you’re the lead, ask if you’re giving good direction. If you’re supporting, verify that you’re delivering what’s expected in the right time frame.
- Shared Responsibility. While there’s certainly merit in paying attention to the contributions of each partner to make sure they’re delivering, the partners need to collectively stand behind the work. To the client it doesn’t matter who did what – what matters is the result.
Today’s complex, multi-dimensional projects often require expertise from more than one outside agency, and having a clear and mutual understanding of the key elements of a good partnership will go a long way toward achieving the best possible outcome. #WorldcomStrong
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