The average lifespan of a brand/agency relationship is just 3.2 years, according to research from Global 40. Of course there are notable exceptions to this rule; MullenLowe and its previous incarnations have worked with Unilever since 1899, but longstanding agency partnerships can appear increasingly few and far between.
With this in mind, we asked this year’s winners of Campaign’s Next Generation, the future rising stars of marketing what the secret of good agency brand relationships are.
Creative lead, Airbnb
The brand knows the soul of the brand. The agency knows how to share the soul with the rest of the world. They must collaborate, and respect each-other’s expertise, but not try to replace one another.
Senior marketing manager, Art Fund
"Innovation happens when creative teams have the right tools"
A good agency relationship is one of transparency and teamwork with a shared understanding of success. As a marketing manager it’s critical to setup your agency – or any team you’re working with – for success. If things appear to stray off course the first place I look is the brief. Is it clear what I’m asking for? Is it based off the right insight? Is the objective achievable? When confident these building blocks are in place, it’s time to let the experts do their job. Innovation happens when creative teams have the right tools and insights to strategically push the boundaries of what’s been done before.
Brand director, M&Ms
"Respect each person’s area of expertise"
Harnessing each team member’s area of expertise and using it to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I started off agency side and I know how infuriating it can be when a client tells you how to do your job. My agency team bring an invaluable external perspective and they are the experts in getting cut through, likewise I have the best understanding of the brand, our consumers and our retail landscape. This introduces some tensions but ultimately it leads to the best work.
I not only respect the expertise of the agency but also of the individuals in the team. I am a huge believer in drawing out each person’s strengths and using them to shape the direction that we go in - be it an account manager that’s done a thesis on Netflix, a digital analyst with a passion for Snapchat. I always encourage my team to speak up about what their excited about and help shape the way forward.
By respecting each person’s areas of expertise and what they’re passionate about we have a really collaborative team that produces great work and, most importantly, is a lot of fun to work with.
Senior brand manager, Coca-Cola
"Spending time together"
Really trying to understand each other’s world is key. It’s incredibly important for the agency to truly understand the business context and performance, as well as the structure and, of course, the product.
But it’s also key for the brand to know how the agency works, and what drives the team. This requires time. including face to face time, as well as honesty and transparency on both sides.
European brand manager Krave/Tresor
"Honesty, respect and transparency."
There’s no secret - just open communication. Most of the time your agency is located in another city which means communication is done through phone, email or video. To keep a healthy relationship, I find the following elements essential:
Honesty: Being open and honest helps build trust while leaving no place for doubts. Don’t be afraid of feedback, it ultimately delivers stronger ideas.
Respect and Trust: Being respectful of the knowledge, skills and capabilities of both brand and agency leads to more fruitful discussion.
Clarity and Transparency: Be clear with your brief and with any expectations around deliverables and budgets. It helps avoid any disappointment in terms of the creative development.
Embrace Change: The world is constantly changing, and it’s common that things change half-way through creative development like people, technology, budgets or priorities. Both parties should use this as an opportunity to deliver more innovative solutions.
Creative and media manager, O2
"Its ok to disagree"
I think it comes down to three things: trust, mutual respect and a very honest level of communication. In my role, I work closely with both the creative and media agencies and in both instances our relationships feel strong because we respect and trust each other’s skill-sets and are open and honest in our conversations and discussions.
When working on joint projects it is ok to disagree; debate and discourse is healthy and there is definitely something wrong if everyone agrees all the time. Clients should challenge their agencies, but the agency should be at liberty to challenge their clients back, after all, they are paid to be experts.
Client-side marketers should trust their agencies with the difficult decisions where they are experts, but it goes both ways, agencies also need to understand that client-side marketers are skilled in their own right and sometimes will need to make difficult decisions that the agency doesn’t support.
In either case, being honest about your reasons and respectful in the way you communicate will mean that the relationship doesn’t fracture, whilst at the same time encouraging a healthy working relationship, which doesn’t become too one-sided or transactional.
Senior brand manager, Absolut Vodka
"Being on the same side"
Treating everybody as one of your colleagues. We’re all on the same side striving for the same objectives so work as one team and treat each other with respect.
Senior manager, brand experience, Hyundai Motor UK
Trust. I’ve had the benefit of working both agency and brand side, and either side of the fence over time have built a seamless client/agency relationship. It’s often said that agencies need to act as an extension of the brand team, but this isn’t always the reality.
To achieve this, trust is essential. A brand needs to trust their agency’s expertise, insight and recommendations.
An agency needs to trust the brief and trust that their client knows what is right for the brand. If the trust is there, you can trust that the output will be fantastic.
Senior brand and campaign manager, Domino’s Pizza
"One team ethos"
Brilliant agency relationships are fundamental to the success of brands but also to me personally. I see our agencies as an extension to the team; throwing challenge their way and having healthy debate really gets the best result all round. It is imperative to be open, honest and transparent in both directions so that both the agency and brand fully understand and share the business issues and what we are trying to achieve. That empowers us all to get to the solution quickly and effectively.
Brand manager, Europe, Stella Artois
Simple. Mutual respect, clear roles and responsibilities, open feedback and a clear direction of the objectives of the brand.