Agency partnerships are of great value to internal and external agencies, as well as the businesses they serve. Most organizations need a mix of internal and external agencies to best serve both their long-term and short-term needs. Developing a strong relationship between your groups can bring enormous benefits to a business in terms of scalability, growth and value. The partnership will also allow creativity to flourish with the introduction of different ways of thinking about and approaching solutions.
Success in agency partnerships is about making a connection and building relationships based on mutual respect. Every relationship has value. Realize that you each bring something unique to the table that will benefit the organization and each other. It can be natural for the in-house agency to feel threatened by external agencies and vice versa, but if lanes are well understood a relationship will benefit both parties.
In Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he points out some early learnings that are valuable to keep in mind as you are building relationships with agencies. It may seem simplistic, but I think you will agree that these are important concepts.
- Share everything.
Relationships are two-sided, and it's important that both parties participate in relationship development. Remember that you are working toward a common goal--the success of the organization through a quality creative product. In providing creative services to an organization, both the internal and external agencies are playing in the same sandbox so recognizing the unique value you each bring and sharing all relevant, related work, guidelines, art files and information is critical to success. When setting up an agency working relationship, it's important to clearly articulate this expectation as openness and sharing is a two-way street.
Internal agencies often hold the knowledge and agility cards. They are experts in the brand as well as company, product, and historical knowledge. They know the players and how to get things done within the business and can complete work on short notice. External agencies often provide perspective, as well as a skillset that compliments those of the internal agency. External agencies are usually at the cutting edge of trends. You can immediately see where working together will be of benefit to both and bring greater results.
Step in to help when you can. Answer the questions that aren't asked that may be of obvious importance to you but your agency partner may not know to ask. Likewise, graciously accept the help and information given to you.
Get to know one another through both work and play. Beyond a project level, create opportunities to get to know one another on a personal level. Enjoy lunch or an outing together. Celebrate your successes together.
- Play fair. Don't take things that aren't yours. And clean up your own mess.
When working with an agency, set clear expectations. Clarify roles, be clear about responsibilities and how the agency is positioned with the client.
Importantly, give credit where credit is due. Knowing you are better together and acknowledging publicly that success is because of all involved will immediately break down barriers and help develop trust. I once worked with an individual whose first reaction to praise was something like: "It takes a team effort. I can't do any of this alone." That response not only raised awareness of the internal/external team but worked to solidify trust and respect.
We all make mistakes. How we acknowledge and handle mistakes separates those who are good at cementing relationships from those who aren't. Take responsibility. When mistakes get made, a customer gets mad or vendor complains; accept the criticism, and make it right. This is not a time for pointing fingers but rather to rally together to meet the business needs. Talk through and learn from the experience.
- When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Finally, great agency relationships are those where you have each other's back. You watch out for one another, work together, stick up for one another, collaborate and make each other stronger. As creative teams, we are in it together learning from each other. No one skill or competency is more important than another, it's the collective whole that adds the most value and the most fun.
Be sure to give the relationship care and attention. Often this takes the form of an agency management position that works with internal customers to identify appropriate project resources, but building the agency relationship should be a leadership goal and responsibility as well.
- Internal and external agencies can see each other as a threat. An entity that will take away business or perhaps show us up. Embracing the full potential of a relationship, recognizing that you are stronger together and add complimentary value can have a positive long-term, lasting effect not only on the business, but on both the internal and external agencies as well. Realizing the benefits of leveraging internal expertise while gaining the advantages of an external perspective and additional resources can help secure a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership.