“Getting more from Agencies and Partners”

03 December 2010

In an environment where marketers face such fierce pressures to cut costs, deliver fast results, and continually adjust to the ever-changing business requirements and sales strategies of their internal clients, it’s easy to think of your agencies less as partners and more as outsourced commodities.

But according to Brad DeHart, Practice Leader with ICG Commerce, thinking of your agency as an extension of your in-house team—and treating them that way—can actually lead to long-term cost savings and improved ROI from your agency spend. He and Ivy Bennet, CMO of Harris Bank, presented their approach to marketing and PR agency partnerships at the recent CMO Club Summit in San Francisco.

According to DeHart, a procurement specialist with an intimate understanding of the value of good agency relationships, simple things like giving your agency team access to senior management, letting them in your strategic plans and business initiatives, and asking your agency for their ideas on how you and your team can work more efficiently all have an impact on productivity, cost and program success.

What’s more, it’s in CMOs best interests to quickly resolve issues they may have with their agency team rather than going straight to an agency review. “Re-pitching your business costs a ton of money and takes months,” DeHart noted. “Onboarding a new team can take as long as a year. It’s not something to do lightly.”

“One-hundred percent of major agency-client financial disputes I have been involved in took two to tango,” DeHaro added. “Make sure your people know how to actually work with agencies and manage them, and make sure your agency lead is doing the same.”

Bennet concurs. She also says a best practice is to conduct regular account reviews with your agency teams to “get beyond the nice talk” and get down to quantitative and qualitative assessments of how everybody’s doing.

And throughout the relationship, Bennet advised CMOs to respect the financial constraints and concerns of their partners. Don’t just go for the lowest cost, go for the highest value, and negotiate for mutual benefit. “It’s all about communication,” Bennet reminded the audience. “Be up front about the parameters they’ll be working with, constraints and managerial challenges.” That, says Bennet, is how to turn the “agency” into your “trusted partner”—and to make sure the whole team is on the bus with you.

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