New Year’s Resolution #32: Ensure I’m Getting Value From My Agency


Recently I shared an example of how an engaged agency can proactively work to protect their clients.

Fittingly, the social scientist Hugh Mackay once quipped that “Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” While I hope we all agree this perspective represents the dimmer view of life’s interactions, we’ve likely all experienced some frustration and anxiety from our relationships with partner agencies.

So, in the spirit of the New Year, I recommend that one of your resolutions focuses on improving current relationships with agencies. Your agency partners should resolve to achieve excellence in these three critical relationship concepts:

  • Listen to learn
  • Collaborate and coordinate
  • Present intelligence, not data

Listen to Learn

How often do your agency partners ask you questions about your business? I’m talking about when they’re pitching your business. When was the last time your agency asked you about your business during a Friday afternoon status meeting or a program results presentation. Do you feel like you’re simply being spoken to and presented with the same presentations over and over again or do you feel like you are part of an interactive conversation?

This January take a step back and ask yourself how well your partners really understand your business. An agency should strive to listen and learn more than they pontificate. As a media director, I find that the most successful campaigns are built on trust. This trust is established long before the first rosy performance numbers are in and is the result of many detailed conversations designed to align the agency and client toward a common goal.

Good agencies should feel ownership of their client’s business and take pride in the ups and downs of the brand that they represent. I know, you’re undoubtedly thinking some of this sounds cliché. While I suppose I’m guilty, I nevertheless believe we all know the difference between being taken seriously and simply being humored. We don’t settle personally, so why settle professionally?

Collaborate and Coordinate

A good agency will work to ensure your needs are met. Sounds simple, but in an increasingly tech focused media world open with specialized shops spring up faster than your average cost-per-click, the likelihood of multiple agencies working together on the same brand continues to increase.

Unfortunately, all too often agencies tend to view themselves from within a silo – what’s more, those that want to collaborate often find themselves hampered with an insufficient statement of work or unclear expectations. The best campaign results require open minds and open lines of communication between agency partners and clients alike. Make sure you do your part and ensure your agencies are set up for success with properly defined statements of work that clearly lay out these expectations. When your agencies know who they should interact and work with they will feel more at ease collaborating for your brand.

Then, follow up and ask whether or not your agencies have touched base with each other on their ideas. Has your creative shop considered the impact to SEO their latest content proposals will have? What about the new paid search campaign – is it anticipating the traffic that your new TV spot will deliver?

Present Intelligence, not Data

One of the things that annoys clients the most is the amount of useless data they see on any given basis. It’s easy to be quickly overwhelmed when sitting through a deck of 300 slides. All too often reporting meetings get bogged down in the weeds over mountains of data – perhaps surprisingly, I’m not concerned with data. What I’m focused on is intelligence.

The army has a saying which fits this situation well; don’t give the commander information, give him intelligence. Intelligence is actionable. Good intelligence allows the commander to react, make a decision and implement a strategy. The advertising world is no different; agency reports should not stop at stories of what has happened but instead offer compelling conclusions that demand action and review. The job of the agency to maximize the client’s time and ensure they understand the bottom line so that they will be effective and make the best decisions possible for a brand.

Consider your typical search report. There will be tables containing impressions and clicks and top keywords as ranked by impressions and clicks. In a better report, you’ll see changes called out from the previous reporting period and perhaps even an explanation or two for why. How often, however, do you see compelling calls to action or recommended decisions to implement? Good agencies know clients need insightful intelligence to win, not just data on a page.

While Hugh Mackay certainly captured a very real perspective, I like to hope that reality instead features a more persistent humanity working to better our relationships with all entities in life – agencies included. Hopefully these guidelines will help make your advertising outcomes a bit more certain and your agency relationships a bit less complex!

Oliver Nelson currently leads digital media strategy across several healthcare, pharmaceutical and OTC categories with a focus on digital display, social media,  search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO.) While Mr. Nelson’s passion lies with SEO, he has over ten years’ experience in retail and corporate marketing, sales and advertising and has managed both online and offline media campaigns for several private and public organizations. Mr. Nelson graduated from the Boston College Carroll School of Management with a Bachelors of Science in marketing. In addition, Mr. Nelson is a top graduate of the United States Army Intelligence School and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom.