I’ve seen many changes in the agency world since the mid ’90s. There was a time when an agency would take on any project–whether or not they had the capability to, in order to win business. Clients would orchestrate a game of creative war by telling us which agencies we were competing against. Account and creative teams would work through the night while the CFO would pour over financials, disclosing everything but her shoe size.
The end goal? To secure a massive request for proposal (RFP) with the most clever, over-the-top pitch.
As social media and content marketing shifted from buzzwords to business strategies, brands began to sit-up and take notice. It was around this time that Forbes declared that the traditional RFP was an archaic exercise in wasted time. And while this statement might have been premature, the business publication was on to something.
Today marketers focus less on expensive, elaborate ‘dog and pony shows’ and more on finding ways to create deeper relationships with their customers. This takes authenticity and transparency on the part of brands and their agencies. The modern strategies that have transformed traditional marketing best-practices and democratized business have made it more affordable and accessible for organizations of all shapes and sizes to reach, engage and convert new audiences. As agencies, we don’t need to be experts in every discipline. What we need to do is think and work smarter and more collaboratively.
When two great talents join forces, incredible things can happen. Steven Spielberg and John Williams created iconic moments in movie history from “Jaws” to “Jurassic Park.” When The Atlantic and Allstate partnered to create The Renewal Project, both teams were able to advance social good and contribute to civic innovation. St. Louis-based agency Second Story was born from this type of thinking. It takes a mindset shift from ‘what can I gain?’ to ‘what can we offer?’ And that requires setting ego up on a shelf and focusing on what’s best for a client.
That said, working with other agencies isn’t always easy. After all, ego is part of what drives creative personalities to do their best work. It can be difficult to make decisions and determine things like billing structure and workflow.
At Second Story, we’ve found that following six guiding principles can ease the process.
Identify a Clear Lead
Agencies are used to managing clients, creating workflows and leading client meetings and conference calls. With more than one agency in the picture, the workflow can become muddled. Who’s in charge of this project, anyway? If you’ve put the program together, you’re the lead. That doesn’t mean you have better account management skills than your partner agency, it just means someone has to be a clear lead on the project so that the client knows who’s in charge and how the work will be completed.
Stay in control by setting up a weekly touch base meeting and creating a timetable that includes each task, its due date and who is responsible. Be sure to let your partner agency weigh in, especially on the tasks where they are the experts. But all admin documents and meeting invites should come from you.
Focus on Expertise
Maybe you’ve landed a healthcare client because of your content marketing expertise, but you know a local agency that specializes in the healthcare industry. You don’t have to turn over your business, but hiring them on as a consultant for the project will only serve to make the end result more effective. Modern clients appreciate and reward transparency so don’t be afraid to let them know you’re pulling in another source. Plus, any agency you partner with will likely hire you in return for your expertise.
Second Story is routinely given direct contact with other agencies’ clients in order to work for them. That’s because we’ve worked to earn our partner agencies’ trust. You can do the same by:
- Always speaking with their brand voice in mind.
- Putting your relationship with the partner agency above any potential relationship with the client company.
- Working through your agency contact for approvals and communication until and unless you are given access directly to their clients.
We’re proud of all the work we do, including projects through our partner agencies. But we also want to respect the privacy of those agencies, so rather than creating case studies that delve into the specifics of each project, we simply created one case study that shows the client logos and explains why we don’t share the details. You can check it out here.
Level Set Client Expectations
We’ve had our clients’ clients ask us about working directly with them. Each time, we are 100% transparent and clear. We will not compete directly with our agency clients. If they design websites, we will not design websites unless asked by our client to do so. However, we have had client companies ask about services outside of their agency’s area of expertise. In this case, reach out to your client to let them know and ask their permission to provide their client with information.
Understand & Communicate What Sets Your Agency Apart
Every agency started with a specific type of expertise. Maybe yours is design, maybe it’s content creation, digital advertising or social media management. Maybe it’s your experience working within a niche industry or vertical. Your agency doesn’t have to do it all. You just have to do one thing really well. Set yourself apart from other agencies with that distinction and you’ll be the name they remember for that service.
Pitch Clients As a Team
Partnering with another agency that has a different specialty than your own can increase your chances of gaining new business. Rather than competing for the same client business, pool your resources to pitch together and work as a team to bring them on board—and provide twice the service and expertise than you could alone.
The proliferation of content has made today’s business culture much more transparent and kindness and kudos are an important part of social media culture. The combination has created a business environment that isn’t afraid to complement (and compliment) rather than compete.
There’s room for all agencies and each one brings something unique to the table. When we work together, our clients get the best of everything and they’ll continue to come back for more.