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When agencies should collaborate – and not compete

The world of agency work is notoriously competitive. But how can agencies get past that when the client wants more than one agency to work together on a campaign?

Layla Revis, VP Brand & Digital Services, OpenText and Rebecca Ewan, VP Global Account Director, Leo Burnett examined three different scenarios where agencies and their clients face that conundrum in an OpenText Hightail-sponsored Adweek webinar, “How to Coexist and Cocreate With Other Agencies: Collaboration Vs. Competition.” 

Campaign kick-off

When two agencies are working on a campaign, it’s vital that the client set the ground rules clearly and early in the project. As Layla commented: “Too many voices can mean a lot of noise.”

To ensure a productive relationship, she offered several suggestions: 

  • Remember RACI (ResponsibleAccountableConsulted or Informed) “This is really an exercise in clarity among everybody in the room. Who needs to be involved? Who doesn’t? How can we eliminate noise by making sure we’ve charted (the scope) out in the beginning.”
  • Have a project manager –“Project managers are critical. I’ve had agencies with great ideas that broke down when it came to the implementation because they didn’t have good project management.”
  • Develop a universal blueprint – “I have an expression at work: No brief, no business. Without a universal blueprint it’s impossible to get everyone on the same page.”

Rebecca added to Layla’s suggestions that it doesn’t have to be the client who takes the lead. Agency partners are perfectly placed to take the lead on cross-agency collaboration, as long as the roles are clear.

 Client-driven competition

When agencies are already being great collaborators for the client, the client might sometimes seek to turn things into a competition. However, competition puts agency collaboration on the back burner and makes it difficult for the agencies to work together in the future.

Rebecca offered the following suggestions to help agencies put their best foot forward:

  • Have a fair, open discussion – “Get to the heart of whether competition achieves what the client wants it to or if collaboration could actually be the way to a better result.”
  • Together, ask questions – “Be sure to ask how to further define the project requirements, how the agency team can align itself better to deliver the project successfully and about any ‘swim lanes’ of responsibility that the client has in mind.”
  • Escalate internally if pitching “against” sister agencies – “It’s possible one call from your senior agency leadership to the senior client can remedy the situation, and at least it can get everyone on the same page and give resources approval to work together.”
  • Recognize your agency’s strengths – “Recognize your agency’s strengths vs. others in the room. Don’t just pitch for creative if you’re the media agency, unless it really makes sense.”

The surprise reveal

If your presentation goes against company brand or messaging, your teams may come across as unaligned. This risks creating an uncollaborative environment, looking unprofessional and putting team members and clients in an awkward position. This can also damage relationships and result in losing future opportunities.

Layla shared how clients and agencies can work together to ensure that doesn’t happen:

  • Make it an “and” – “If you think you have a great idea that your client will love, make it the second part of the presentation, but stick to the script for the first part. And do it early on in the process, not in the meeting with the CMO.”
  • Don’t discount the work the client and the other agencies have done – “They’ll feel you weren’t listening, which could mean you’ll lose the scope for next year and hurt your reputation with other agencies you might have to work with in the future.”
  • Don’t go off brief, but do offer other insights – “You can, however, offer insight if the brief was missing something or if you learned something new post-brief.”
  • Account management is key – “If you have the right person listening and taking notes, making sure all those details are checked off, surprises are less likely to happen.”
  • Make sure you have the same definitions – “Don’t let miscommunication be a reason for surprises to happen. Clients should be very specific with scope.”
  • Have more check-ins with the client earlier on, and make sure to reiterate the scope – “The client shouldn’t have to [refer to] the scope as a reminder halfway through the project. Keep the scope front and center.”
  • Reconfirm and rehearse – “Establish speaking roles prior to the presentation and rehearse to ensure you’re all on the same page.”

Interested in more insights from the webinar? You can register to watch it on demand or read Layla’s responses to questions asked during the webinar in her blog post, “To compete or collaborate? Popular questions answered for agencies and clients alike.”

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