6 Insider Tips for a Strong Creative Agency Partnership


Get more from your partnerships.

Too many client-agency partnerships are crushed on the rocks because of miscommunication and mismatched expectations. You invested time in finding your creative agency; don’t let your effort turn into a sunk cost.

Steve Denker, of strategy agency TopRight Partners, shares six tips you can use to get the most out of your agency partnership. Whether you’re working with a top design firm or great experiential marketing agencies, Steve has some great advice on how an agency should earn the word “partner” from you.

Six Rules That Should Define Your Client-Agency Relationship.

Steve Denker talks creative agency partnershipI learned an important business lesson early in my marketing consulting career. I responded to a new client’s email at about 1:30 AM on a Saturday night of a holiday weekend. My phone happened to be in hand, and I thought that my quick response would go far toward the expectations that our firm had laid out during our engagement kick-off meetings.

I was right – it surely set expectations. I spent the next year receiving calls, texts and emails at all hours of the night with the expectation of a quick answer. My takeaway: it is critical to clearly lay out not just the project deliverables, but the communication and engagement “rules of the road” that will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Through experience I have learned six rules for treating brand marketers like existing clients. Does your agency meet these standards?

1. The agency’s sense of urgency must correspond to the brand marketer’s sense of urgency.

When firms present similar capabilities to would-be clients, it often comes down to who pushed harder within a compressed cycle of information gathering, meetings, proposal reviews, presentations and the final decision. The firm that not only understands the client’s immediate needs, but demonstrates a willingness to dive in and shows an understanding of real business urgency and deliverables almost always prevails.

Correspondingly, the agency that wins the engagement should move fast in getting started with the destination planning workshop, positioning and brand architecture.

2. Pay attention to the details – all of them.

Everything communicates. Everything.

Be crisp in communication, whether it’s meetings, phone calls, emails or presentations. Your communication reflects the agency and how you operate. Expect prospects to judge your work beginning with the first email exchange.

3. Act with care.

In a true partnership, forming a new team is more than a feel-good toast over dinner. At TopRight, even before we are hired by a client, we take confidential information, internal prospect/client discussions, and business priorities very seriously. We treat client information and priorities with the same care that we treat our own.

4. Deliver value before the papers are signed.

If your agency believes value begins once there is a signature on the contract, then they are not a client partner – they’re a vendor.

An agency should never show up to an introductory meeting without something to offer: a point of view, a snapshot of how the client communicates in the market compared to their competition, etc. It’s not difficult to look through the current brand identity, communications, campaigns, digital assets and creative execution. Share constructive thoughts. Even the best work can be improved upon. True marketers appreciate the authenticity.

5. Establish trust and confidence immediately.

For agencies, it sounds cliché, but say what you mean (clarity), and do what you say (accountability).

The results of the final meeting are started in the first meeting. Ideally the prospect should have their mind 94% made up when you leave that first meeting. The rest of the process is proving them right. Brand marketers often know what they want; they’re looking for the best fit in addition to capabilities.

6. Show your fight and tenacity.

It typically takes seven “no’s” for me to start backing down. Perhaps it’s because I hate the term runner-up, but I want prospective clients to know that TopRight Partners is not just a good solution for them, it is the right solution. Demonstrate that the reason you keep fighting for their business is because of the value you can bring to them. That is what a client partnership should be built on.

Relationship marketing is often thought of purely as an extension of external communication – how you effectively speak to your target but in a “relationship” context. In its simplest form, however, it is based on authentic conversation. What are the needs and priorities? Who can best show the prospect a path to an answer? If an agency wants to grow their business and client base, they must show how they will help you grow yours.

Start Your Agency Partnership Off on the Right Foot

You’ve got the insight on how an agency should approach the most important engagement: yours. Now put that insight to work. Search Agency Spotter to find the right agency in minutes. As you work through your shortlist, use these six rules to pinpoint the agency that will be a true partner.

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About Claire Wallace

Claire writes about strategy, insight, and advice to help inspire smart and savvy marketers. She completed her MBA at UMass-Amherst and has been a team member at City Sports, MIT, and an organic farm in Maine. A former student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin, Claire now runs marathons, for fun! On her bucket list is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, dining at Per Se, and running the beautiful trails in New Zealand.