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Rules for managing your marketing agency

rules for managing your marketing agencyHaving sat on ‘agency side’ for the majority of my career, I’ve worked with countless clients, many of whom have been reasonable and a total joy to work with (and some who have not). When I made the decision to go back to ‘client side’ I knew I would be managing my own agency, so I began reflecting on how the agency I worked for was able to best serve our clients and what set of principles underpinned a productive agency/client relationship.While it’s not an exhaustive list, my fundamentals to an effective agency/client relationship are as follows:

Agenda’s for every meeting 

Have you ever caught yourself in a meeting where the attendees are more interested in anything other than being productive and detailing actionable tasks? Yeah, it’s the worst isn’t it? Whenever I find myself in that meeting I tend to remind everyone in the room of the cost of the business for us being there. My seat cost, plus yours and everyone else’s, plus travel time = a significant spend in the form of resources that shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’re not on vacation people!

While I certainly appreciate the benefit of exchanging niceties to build rapport, agenda’s can serve as a means to keep everyone in the room on track to producing actionable outcomes. As much as I can enjoy a “fun brainstorming session”, without accountability in the room, it can be an expensive indulgent exercise.

Always follow up via email 

Getting everything in writing is important. It’s not primarily that your agency might have a malicious intent to pull one over on you but more to document the sheer amount of detail that is being passed between organisations. If you have been lucky enough to have worked with one agency for a significant period of time, they may have come to know your business quite well, but it’s important to remember that they will never know the business as well as you do or the personalities of your stakeholders within it.

By documenting the details that are covered in meetings and phone conversations, you’ll keep a record of what has been requested, allowing both parties to refer back to conversations to review what was discussed along with the project expectations.

It also means that should you at any point find yourself in a ‘he said, she said’ situation, you have a way of referring back to something concrete to find a resolution.

Be clear with your expectations 

One of the most important items (IMHO) to document in your face to face meetings and emails to your agency is your expectations of them. The gap between expectations and reality is disappointment or if you’re lucky, a surprise and delight – but it’s only in one of those two options where we find ourselves in a bit of a state.

Set your rules up front and make it clear what you want to get out of your time together. Here are some questions as prompts:

  • How often do you expect communication?
    • Weekly email updates?
    • Monthly/quarterly face to face meetings?
  • Will you have a dedicated point of contact?
  • How do they like to receive briefs/requests for changes?
  • How many change iterations are scoped for particular items of work?
  • How will your agency report on the work they do?
  • Do you want to ensure any additional hours/proposed work is signed off by you prior to any work commencing?
  • How does your agency go about providing proactive thinking on client accounts?
  • What is their handover process when an individual within the organisation leaves?
  • Will you retain access to accounts that have been set up for you throughout the duration of the relationship?
  • Will they sign an NDA to work on your account?
  • Do they work with any of your competitors? If so, how do they go about managing that process to ensure fair treatment of both accounts?

Make fair and reasonable requests 

Aside from the fact that we should strive to be fair and reasonable always in life, making a concerted effort to be overly fair  to your agency will go a long way to building rapport and developing a favourable long term partnership. So how is one ‘overly fair and reasonable’ you ask?  By understanding that it’s not your agency’s job to solve the pickles you may find yourself in, nor is it their responsibility to arm you with a good argument to manage your internal stakeholders.

With that said, in my experience, many agencies are more than happy to help you should you find yourself in a pickle, as long as you show empathy for their situation and acknowledge that they will be going the extra mile to help you.  It will do us well to remember, that ‘going the extra mile’ should not be the opening expectation for your agency to be successful in your eyes. We trade money for resource in a fair exchange for an agreed upon set of base level expectations. Of course that also means that if your agency is not meeting those expectations that have been set, that is unreasonable on their part and an arrest* should be made.

*Put the handcuffs away, I mean metaphorically. 

the impossible client triangle

In practice this simply looks like acknowledging whether you’re asking for mountains to be moved and ensuring you let them come back to you with what is reasonably achievable.

If you’re changing the scope of a project or asking for additional requests, acknowledge that you understand it may (and will probably likely) impact the timeline and budget.

By all means, highlight your reasonable preferences for timeline and budget if you have them, but leave the conversation open for them to let you know what is possible (and don’t expect to get everything you want). For example, you might be able to get what you need done by the deadline you require it by, but the agency may charge an additional fee to allocate a new resource on the project. Alternatively, you may be able to get what you need within your allocated budget but not by your preferred deadline. If you truly need both, ask them what they would need to make it possible and if they come back to you and say it’s impossible, it wasn’t a reasonable request to begin with.


Just as we work to empower and lead those within the walls of our own organisation, we can get the most effective output from our agencies when we manage them effectively. Do you have tips for getting the most out of your agency? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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