The power of transparency in agency relationships should not be underestimated
It’s especially important when working closely with agency partners. As a marketer, you are investing and trusting an external party with your brand: something that needs to be constantly monitored and reviewed.
Agencies need to have open lines of communication, and have regular check-ins with the brands they work with. Brands need to communicate what they want, when they want it and guide creative delivery.
Underpinning all of this is the reality that brands want to get value from their budget and agencies need to make a profit; when both parties are coming from different end goals, is where the rub can lie.
Clarity From The Start
The key to transparency in agency relationships is to define your objectives from the very beginning. These goals should be realistic and quantifiable, whilst appreciating the challenges that may emerge whilst reaching them.
Being forward thinking and honest is really important at the kick-off stage of a client-agency relationship. For instance, clarity in terms of breakdown of services and deliverables is crucial. From a brand’s point of view, they want to see a full disclosure of where their marketing spend is going, what the agency is charging for each deliverable, expenses and the staff involved with the specific project.
On this point, true transparency in agency relationships comes when actual time is projected for each team member. Indeed, a huge point of contention for brands is when agencies use a senior team member for a pitch, but actually get a more junior member of staff to complete the work. This can be misleading and doesn’t reflect the scope of work: something that can be incredibly frustrating from a client point of view.
To mitigate any tension, brands should ensure they benchmark rates for individuals working on a project and understand who the team will be from the start. Not only will this help understand the agency proposal, but it will also ensure you are paying the right rate, for the right person.
On top of this, benchmarking rationalises why brands are paying a certain price for one agency and not another. It provides extra levels of transparency, and should not be a cause for concern for agencies unless they are being purposely disingenuous.
Power Of Feedback
A feedback loop is crucial. This can be something scheduled or more ad hoc. Brands need to ensure they are delivering honest feedback, and in turn should expect agencies to openly communicate when work is not going to plan. This requires a solid working relationship to ensure that both sides feel comfortable giving updates. It should also be something that is immediately flagged rather than something delayed until the end of the month report.
Interestingly, the ANA reports the majority of clients and agencies are not in agreement on whether clients provide clear assignment briefings to agencies. In fact, only 27% of agencies believe clients do a good job (and zero percent strongly agree). In contrast, 58% of clients think they perform well on briefs.
What these figures underline is the need for clear communication: without it how do agencies expect to deliver what the client is expecting, at the proposed costs?
Ultimately, the onus is on the agency to get clarification on the brief from day one, and then to regularly feedback on pieces of work and deliver updates on agreed timelines.
Transparency in agency relationships works both ways, and can be damaging when expectations from either side aren’t met. With big budgets being invested, money can be an area of tension from both sides.
Paying on time is essential in nurturing a transparent relationship and being clear from the outset, when you’re negotiating the contracts, what is expected from both sides at what point is critical. Without a schedule of work, it can be easy for invoices to be held until expectations are met, which puts both parties under stress and can also negatively impact the long term relationship.
Internally, brands should ensure that Marketing, Procurement and Finance are all aligned on contractual obligations and payment milestones.