Are You Inadvertently Impeding Your Agency’s Value?


Dear Clients in Agency Relationships:

I could not be a bigger advocate for the value agencies can bring you.

And now that I’m outside the bounds of an agency for the first time in my career, I find I can better see inadvertent hurdles on both sides.

To wit, one little-discussed aspect of the client/agency relationship makes a huge impact on the value you’ll get: it’s the context and credit given to your in-house team for your agency’s creative innovation.

Fresh thinking is the highest-value benefit you’ll get from your firm. Agencies have broad networks, a pulse on best practices and a multitude of smart thinkers to apply to your challenges. Sure, they add value when they implement, but your biggest rewards come from their innovative ideas and new insights.

So setting context for fostering their strategic creativity is key.  You have to open the kimono, bring agencies in to your business, roll up your sleeves and partner with them so they can bring you all the benefits of their resources. There is shared accountability to landing on insights, coalescing on a strategy, and owning course corrections along the way. There should be no “little bit pregnant” to your partnership.

Consider context: Does your team member who’s accountable for managing the agency relationship realize that’s the ticket? Are they empowered to access company data, insights and vision that truly enable the agency process? Is it safe for them to own up to small failures on the path to big wins?

And credit: Do the CCO, CMO and CEO value that manager when the Agency delivers creative magic? 

If a client-side manager believes her job security rests on being the smartest in the room, or he feels his star diminish when the agency shines … things start to fall apart quickly. In these instances (usually when the company is under stress and therefore in great need of strategic ideas), managers’ transparency dims in both directions. This causes a self-fulfilling cycle in which CXOs have less insight into what the agency is delivering, and when the health of the relationship suffers.

Wherever you are up the management chain, be sure to ask what insights and information your agency needs. Ask what good ideas they’ve brought lately, and then pat your manager on the back. Ensure you have plans in place that are updated frequently, and invite good new ideas throughout the year, not just when it’s time to re-up the annual agreement.

Just as great employees are a testament to their strong managers, great agencies’ client-side managers deserve credit and encouragement for shared creative magic.


Patty is an Executive Advisor providing Corporate Communications, PR and CSR counsel to CEOs and CCOs, helping guide plans, positioning and people on the most effective course. She is a 14-year Edelman veteran with more than 30 years of agency experience.