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Future-Proofing the Agency:Brand Relationship

From the desk of: Brian Bauman


“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a surprisingly widespread idea given that we’re in a post-six-sigma, innovation-happy business world.  You often hear it in an efficiency context, as in, why devote resources to perfecting this dynamic that seems to be working just fine?  But the distance between “just fine” and “broke” is often shorter than we think.

Take the typical relationship between agencies and brands, for example.

Today, many creative agencies pay lip service to collaboration and working closely with their clients, but few achieve it at a level to that’s truly effective. Instead, the reality is often a “one client of many” mentality – using the same templates and checkboxes, client after client, hoping a one-size-fits-most approach will be good enough.

Other agencies mistake “the client is always right” for an operational philosophy. They accept brief without question or conversation. Hitting the ground running in the client’s desired direction, without stopping to ask: is this actually the right direction to begin with?

These approaches to the agency/brand relationship may not be entirely “broke,” but they are outdated and they certainly don’t foster creativity. It doesn’t have to be this way. Agencies can proactively fix the brand relationship by future-proofing five key points of the brand/agency dynamic, starting with the beginning of the relationship itself.

This entrepreneurial approach is what pushes brands into breakthrough territory.

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The Interview
First impressions are important, and for agencies and brands it’s no different. More time (and emphasis) needs to be spent in this initial vetting stage to make sure both parties are compatible. That means leaving rigid checklists and limiting RFP processes in the past where they belong. Instead, agencies should treat the vetting process more like an interview. A series of give-and-take encounters to get to know each other’s working styles, priorities, knowledge centers and values. Every effort should be made to ensure this initial step is done properly, because it’s a make-or-break moment for the agency/brand relationship moving forward.

What Box?
Once the relationship begins, agencies and brands need to establish a culture that encourages boundary-pushing – and that doesn’t just mean thinking “outside the box.” It’s venturing so far from the box that it’s hardly visible anymore, even if that journey results in a slight setback here and there (which is just another way to describe a learning experience). This entrepreneurial approach is what pushes brands out of comfort zones and into breakthrough territory. Because, in a time when things are moving quickly, it’s the infinitely curious, the authentically confident, and the inherently risk-tolerant who stay ahead.

Data-driven Risk-taking
To avoid setbacks when taking risks, data needs be the everyday connective tissue of the agency-brand relationship. If discussions start with “what’s trending?” or “what’s cool?” it’s likely a discussion already heading in the wrong direction. But approaches that are data-driven aren’t subjective, they’re strategic and based on facts. This lets agencies and brands see what’s really working and what their consumers really want.

Open Dialogues = Good Relationships
Agencies that simply take their marching orders, brief their creative team behind closed doors and hope for the best, invite poor end results. Instead, an open dialogue should be standard throughout the entire creative process. Better still, agencies should proactively reach out and maintain dialogue internally with their own teams, and also externally with their clients. This is how healthy brands and agencies keep their campaign and business objectives in alignment, and more importantly, how they encourage good ideas to emerge from all layers of the corporate structure.

Tough Questions, Honest Answers
Asking tough questions is easier said than done, especially in a business environment. But it’s the agencies who ask tough questions throughout the creative process that get to the bottom of what their clients are really trying to achieve. The same can be said for giving honest answers. If there’s a better or different approach to what’s suggested, agencies must give honest feedback upfront. Because tough love today saves heartaches for brands internally and externally in the future.

Taking an entrepreneurial approach—to both the creative process and to client interactions—is how agencies can future-proof the brand relationship, tap into the freshest pool of ideas and deliver the best results for their client. It’s how a striking creative piece comes into being. How game-changing ideas see the light of day. And how workable, repeatable processes that gets results project to project become best practices that perpetuate positive brand/agency relationships for years to come.

Here, let us show you.