It’s an age-old question: how can an agency-client relationship achieve long-lasting success? What’s the secret to a winning partnership? Spoon London’s head of content Jess Pike investigates.
It’s a relationship that’s sometimes viewed – from the side-lines at least – with some degree of cynicism.
Agencies are criticised for over-promising and under-delivering, while clients are scolded for diluting their agency’s creative thinking.
But at Spoon we’re lucky enough to work with some brilliant clients who very rarely trample over our creativity. As a result, we like to think we know a little bit about what a good agency-client relationship looks like.
How can client-side marketers get the best out of their agencies and vice versa? And how can the relationship be fulfilling (enjoyable even 😱) for all involved? I had a chat with the team in London and here are our reflections.
First off, all hail the briefing process.
A solid brief is the equivalent of a dollop of clotted cream on a jam-laden scone: essential, non-negotiable, very much as it should be.
But while a good brief gives an agency what they need to deliver great content, the briefing process itself is also crucial.
What’s the point of a dictatorial brief that doesn’t allow for creative input from the agency in question? Or a brief that stipulates format or CTA without any room for discussion?
A good briefing process will allow for questions, push-back and a degree of back-and-forth.
- Is a listicle really the best option – or would a video or podcast series convey your message in a more original and engaging way?
- How does this piece of content tie into your overarching content strategy?
- How will it help meet business objectives?
Our favourite clients offer space for creative input. And not just at the briefing stage. When they say they want us to challenge them, they really mean it.
Equally, my team and I should remember that a brief is a living, breathing document – and interrogate it. Oh, and always try to be understanding when a patchy brief arrives in our inbox: sometimes the full picture can be difficult to paint.
Next, the importance of regular catch-ups and check-ins.
Q: Why are check-ins so fundamental to a good agency-client relationship?
A: Because they take away the dangerous habit of second-guessing.
They also allow for the chance to build relationships that go beyond the strictly professional. Some of our most rewarding agency-client relationships are borne out of lunchtime chats and after-work drinks – not email trails and hurried phone calls.
Don’t underestimate the importance of face-to-face time, either: so obvious yet often neglected in favour of speedy Skypes. And if you are using a tool like Skype/Teams/Google Hangouts, keep the video on for maximum meeting efficacy and engagement.
Measure performance every step of the way.
Any agency worth its salt will be reporting on content performance on a regular basis. We all know that analysis and iteration are integral to continuous improvement.
But the best agencies won’t just report on the best performers – they’ll be examining the worst performers, too.
Do any common themes emerge?
- Do the stats tell us that certain pieces of content would work better as social posts?
- What are we assuming about our audience that might be unfounded and untrue?
- We might be bored of ‘5 things you need to know about…’ listicles, but do our audience feel the same?
Don’t shy away from your bad results: confront and interrogate them. (There’s nothing worse than an agency that tries to pull the wool over clients’ eyes).
Finally, we should all be prepared for performance outliers – seemingly random winners or losers in the content marketing maelstrom. Sometimes content surprises us. And if we have played a weak hand, we’ll know not to do it again next time.
Deadlines: For one and for all.
Like many brilliant account managers, my colleague Harriet Kerr is a big fan of the project plan. For Spoon, it’s the veritable Pritt Stick that glues a project together.
Where projects so often go awry is when timelines are ignored (or pushed). The content production process is a two-way street – clarity from both sides regarding what to deliver and approve (and when) is vital.
At the same time, having an understanding of other time/resource pressures (from both sides) is crucial. Client-side marketers have roles and responsibilities that go beyond managing an agency. And agencies are juggling multiple projects for multiple clients with multiple deadlines.
Working towards a successful agency-client relationship
The best relationships are borne out of mutual respect, open-mindedness and a shared ability to take risks. Because when it comes to creating truly show-stopping content, big risks are most definitely worth taking.
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