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Building Better Agency Partnerships Roundtable

Watch these marketing leaders discuss their experiences with agency partners and how they recommend maintaining that partnership for business success.

Agency partnerships are a necessary strategic collaboration in order to increase a business’ brand awareness and reach their goals. What has changed since the move to the hybrid working model, though? And how can marketers ensure a continued, successful agency partnership?

With Lea Sellers moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate include: 

  • Mark Baker, CMO, Infront
  • Rebecca Blackmore, Senior Marketing Manager, Outsystems
  • Shallu-Behar Sheehan, Chief of Staff Group Marketing, Capgemini

Evolving partnerships 

Moderator Lea Sellers commenced the debate by asking the panelists how their agency partnerships have evolved during the shift to remote and hybrid work.

Senior Marketing Manager at Outsystems, Rebecca Blackmore, stated that her organization worked remotely before the pandemic started. Overall, she maintained that the move didn’t impact them as an organization. Despite this, Rebecca admitted that face-to-face meetup situations have been enhanced and more appreciated. “I’m finding that we’re having richer conversations and a lot more productive conversations around the table”, she said. 

Shallu-Behar Sheehan, Chief of Staff Group Marketing at Capgemini, added onto Rebecca’s point. “What I’ve noticed is that it’s become more intimate”, she explained when referring to the evolution of partnerships. This shift to hybrid and remote work, Shallu argued, has pushed marketers to drive that true partnership. This involves getting to know each other outside of the agency and client relationship. 

Infront’s CMO, Mark Baker, agreed with Shallu and Rebecca’s points on the idea that it hasn’t changed that much.

Mark thought back to his early days in marketing. “The reality was we didn’t have Zoom and we didn’t have Slack”, he said. Undeterred by this, Mark and his team communicated frequently throughout the week. He stated that they would meet in person then follow up with phone calls and emails.

Overlooked features of successful partnerships

Shallu believes that the ability to write a good brief is overlooked in relationships with agencies. She recalls some statistics that she found to be interesting in relation to this. 

“80% of marketeers think they write really good briefs and only 10% of agencies agree”, she said. 

On a more serious note, she adds that this can cause friction between the agency and the client. Shallu stated that this is often a result of miscommunication. To solve the issue, Shallu said that marketeers need to become better at writing strategic briefs. 

Mark highlighted the strengths and pitfalls of a relationship with an agency. He expanded on one of Shallu’s previous points around imagination. 

“Where I’ve seen briefing fall down is where businesses, instead of asking the agency for ‘what’, they try to tell them, ‘how’”, he said. Mark described this as the “guaranteed death of imagination”. He noted that giving people too narrow a view results in this loss of creativity. In addition to this, Mark wants the team to work together on a specific piece of the “puzzle” and understand their place within the dynamic.

Terminating agency partnerships

Lea asked the panelists how they would deal with terminating a poor relationship with an agency. 

Rebecca commented that it comes down to have a face-to-face conversation with the poor-performing partner. Being open and transparent is another important aspect of the process. She argued that if a partnership doesn’t work out now, that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. “It might not be the right fit for this organization in this particular moment in time”, she said. 

Mark focuses on how that termination could be avoided and what signs to look out for.

“You can grow out of an agency or an agency can grow out of you”, he said. When the relationship with an agency is going badly, marketers have to look at the behaviors. Some things he suggests need close observation include the brief and documentation. “Do you have the right structures in place?”, he said. Mark advised that setting timelines and regularly communicating makes for a good relationship. 

Trust is another word Mark focuses on. 

Lack of trust in the agency’s availability, dependability and their consistency can lead to a failed partnership. He circles back to the idea that you need a relationship where you can talk about any issues and “be honest about what’s working and what doesn’t”. 

While she tries to avoid termination, Shallu maintains that marketing leaders need to make tough decisions sometimes. She tries to understand how expectations on both sides are being managed and where it has failed. “It’s easy to blame an agency but it’s also important to look within… Look beyond what is being said in a room”, she said. What isn’t being said, she argued, is where the issue lies. 

Watch the roundtable above to discover more insights from these top marketing leaders.

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