So, you picked your partner in some sort of process that had you evaluate Agency A over Agencies B, C, and D. You are very pleased with your choice and have the highest of hopes for what you will accomplish together. What too often happens next is that the new partner is slammed into the thick of things, without being set up for success. They are rushed into creating dashboards, getting ready for a shoot next week, or working in the engines and auctions to find the 20% growth you need to show your boss or board ASAP.
I get it, you are under major pressure to grow. However, if your urgency and pressure sour the start of what could be a very large investment, it will not help you in the long run. If you can set up your partner for success with a bit of planning, it will pay dividends.
The agency partner needs an opportunity to be onboarded and to onboard you. Yes, that is not a typo, there are two types of onboardings. Too often in our industry, both get skipped in the name of speed.
The client needs to onboard the agency. This allows the agency to truly understand the client.
You should prepare to invest at least three to four weeks in onboarding the agency partner. This should consist of at least six core activities.
Culture and Values
Take the time to share with the agency partner your core values. How did they come to be? Why are they so important? How are they used and exhibited by employees at the company? How is the agency expected to carry out those core values? How does your CEO talk about your unique company DNA? Which stories stand out as uniquely representative of your culture at its best?
Take out examples of past work, media plans, tests, briefs, decks, and whatever else you can find. Put them on a wall (digital or analog) and share what was positive and negative about those experiences. History will repeat itself unless you take the time to not allow it to happen.
Do a store walk with your team
One of my favorite clients took the time to invite our team members down to their core market and do a proper tour of the stores. They offered to do this on their own time, making a point to let the agency team know how important the understanding of those stores and guest behavior was to them.
Economics of the business
Take the time to help your agency understand how the business model works. If you are Kraft Cheese, the agency has to understand that all the great creative in the world is no match for a 30% increase in core ingredients and related cost of goods sold (COGS). If you are a credit card company, help your agency understand how underwriting and credit risk management works and how that in turn changes marketing.
I was so grateful when the CMO and president of Red Roof Inn took the time to help me understand their business model, the mindset of the hotel operators, and a deep dive into understanding how allowing pets to stay free was a core proposition. Don’t skip this step.
Goals for the year
Review in depth what your goals are for the year. Consider sharing three sets of goals:
A. Company Goals — At the company level, what are the CEO and Board of Directors working to achieve?
B. Division/Product Goals — At the division or product level, what are the KPIs?
C. Your Personal Goals — Third, but surely not least, is the importance of sharing YOUR goals. When an agency understands the goals assigned to the client, that vulnerability in turn unleashes huge empathy and understanding.
Executive point of view
A really important, and often missed opportunity, is to have the most senior applicable executive speak to the entire agency team. This might be the CMO or the CEO depending on the remit of the agency or services partner. Ideally, this person would dedicate a proper one to two hours to meet everyone on the agency team from the most senior person to the most junior analyst or copywriter. This senior leader ideally speaks to three things:
A. The importance of the relationship
B. The importance of what the company does
C. The importance of the moment
The agency needs the chance to onboard as well!
This should consist of at least four core activities on their side:
Explanation of team roles and responsibilities
Demand that the agency does not shortcut the phase where it should explain what each person does on the team, and how you will interface with that person.
Explanation of the briefing process
Ask the agency to share their briefing templates. Spend the time to customize those now, when things are calm, before the storm. A brief can take a number of forms. Co-create one that will work for this new relationship. The process for creating a great all-purpose brief will also be discussed in the next chapter.
Calendar ritual expectation setting
Every agency has some sort of “calendar” of rituals. When are agency/client check-ins? When are weekly reports best shared? When are the intra-agency huddles? How long does the client need to gain creative approvals for their boss?
Reporting, KPI alignment, and understanding
The agency should explain very clearly its reporting rituals. Whether these are performance, accounting, quarterly business reviews (QBRs), or wrap reports, each agency has ideal timing, templates, and so forth. This is a chance to not only understand these artifacts, but also have them mold a bit to your calendar.
(Pro tip—if your CFO, for example, is looking for performance metrics every Friday, you will want reporting to come from your agency on a Thursday to give you time to listen, ingest, and then incorporate.)
When this ideal onboarding is given the necessary time during this needed honeymoon phase, client-agency relationships are given their best shot. There is a reason why marriages start with a honeymoon trip. The trip allows the young couple to bond, relax, and get to know each other in an idyllic environment before the realities of marriage set in so that they have that reservoir of goodwill toward each other. This is the same for client and agency life. I know how busy you are, and how tempting it is to slam your agency into a brief, but please use the first two to three weeks for a proper mutual onboarding and honeymoon phase!