How to Work with an Agency: 5 Key Conversations

You’ve hired a new agency, congratulations! This is an exciting time for you and your business – the next step to help you reach your goals. But every agency is different and learning how to work together can be a process for both sides.

This is what we at Break the Ice Media call the “Onboarding Phase,” a time of learning and discovery, where the agency team dives into your business – and you dive into theirs. This is your moment to ask questions, set expectations, establish processes and ultimately pave the way to success.

It’s often the perception that once the contract is signed, the client’s job is over, and the agency’s job begins. But clients should be asking at least five things from their agency partners – starting a dialogue that will save everyone time, stress, and confusion as you embark on your next project or campaign. Make sure to have these 5 key conversations as you begin to work with an agency.

If you’re still in that early phase of choosing the right agency for you, head over to Rhonda’s blog on “Why Work with and How to Choose a Marketing Agency” for tips on selecting a partner.

1. Talk about your business and challenges.

Transparency is a must with your agency partner. View your agency account team as an extension of your business or organization. Don’t hold back and don’t hide your biggest concerns. Share your business issues, your major challenges and hurdles. Even if you don’t think they relate to the project at hand, chances are your agency partner will have an answer that can help.

Knowing our client’s larger concerns allows us to seek out strategies that can support their business needs – often resulting in more creative solutions and stronger campaigns.

Equally as important as your business issues are your company values and culture. This helps your agency team get a sense of who you are and what you believe in for a better working relationship. Southwest Airlines, for example, has a “Fun-LUVing Attitude” at their core. Prudential focuses on inclusivity and collaboration.

Knowing how you work and what you value should impact how your agency team handles everything from your daily communication to the strategies employed in your campaigns. It’s as core to your business as your goals, your needs, and your issues.

2. Talk about communication.

Let your agency know how to communicate with you.

In your proposal or project plan, your agency team will likely have outlined a section on communication and reporting. This may include meetings on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis, regular updates over email, scheduled phone calls, etc. But, as the client it’s also important to discuss how you want to be communicated with – what best meets your needs and provides the information you desire.

I once had a client who requested text as our primary form of communication. She was frequently on the go and preferred this more informal method over email for immediate needs. I’ve had clients who prefer written conversations for lengthy communications, allowing them to go back multiple times and reference what was said. Others prefer I just pick up the phone.

Frequency of communications is also key while having this discussion. Weekly or every-other-week updates may work for some projects, but others might require more frequent touchpoints. Let your team know what you need. It’s also important to strike a balance between constant communication and over-communication. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed by a constant barrage of emails.

3. Talk about needs.

As the project or campaign moves into the execution phase, ask your agency team what they will need from you. Then, designate a person (yourself or a member of your internal team) to be the point person for those needs. This can even be several members of your team depending on areas of expertise.

Respond timely to questions and emails so the account team can move forward quickly on your behalf. If you aren’t available for a given day or week, be sure to communicate that with the agency team, or designate someone to respond on your behalf. Project timelines are often impacted when agencies are waiting on information or approvals, which impacts the overall campaign.

Share pertinent information quickly and proactively. If something happened within the organization that could affect a marketing program, someone has left or is new to the business, be sure to let your account team know about it.

4. Talk about expectations.

Agree on the scope of work and talk with your agency team about deliverables. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you hired them for a reason. Let your agency team offer advice and guide you in their thinking.

Let’s say you hire an agency to do public relations for your brand. They land a placement in Travel + Leisure, but all along you were looking for that local, in-market exposure. Both results come from PR tactics – pitching, developing story angles, liaising with the media. But the end results are very, very different.

In setting expectations, it’s important to both be open to what they, the agency, has to say and to share your own thoughts and expertise. By the end of this conversation, you should be in agreement with your agency team about what they are delivering on, how they are delivering on it, and what the end result will be.

5. Talk about metrics.

Share up front the specific metrics that matter to you and to the people you answer to.

At Break the Ice Media, we have our go-to KPIs when working in the digital space, on social media, in email campaigns, and in PR. Other clients and companies – including yours – may measure things differently, and need those specific measurements reported on in order to compare to past campaigns or tactics and to measure growth.

There are so many metrics available to us thanks to the digital landscape. Almost everything you do is trackable in some way – but that doesn’t mean that every metric is the answer to measuring success. If you are unsure of the best ways to measure your campaign, ask your agency team to explain some of the key metrics and determine together which ones are right for your campaign.

Question frequently, communicate regularly, share your expertise and lean on your new team’s knowledge. Your agency should feel like a regular part of your marketing team, a trusted partner that can help you reach those goals that will take your business to the next level.