Category : Relationships


Who’s Really on Your Team?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"So, you want to hire an agency to help you with your marketing. You’ve sent out a RFI, narrowed the field, been through the RFP, and now you’re down to three. It’s time for the pitch review. The remaining agencies on your list have asked to be first, last, or middle, depending on their strategy, and have asked for intelligence on who’s in the room from your side, and who they’re competing against. Some will invite you to dinner or drinks the night before to get to know you better, They may even be savvy enough to recheck expectations on the ask, and try to understand if anything has changed, and what it will take to win your business.

Some advice: Answer everything they ask. It will give you additional perspective on how the agency thinks and works to see if they put their intelligence to good use. Also, social activities are an excellent way to get to know the agency as well, but extend the courtesy to all agencies.

One of the most important parts of a brand / agency relationship is the team on both sides. Ask the agency to bring people with them who will actually be your day-to-day working team.

Every agency has a pitch team which includes the charming, but facilitative business development person – usually wearing a tailored suit or dress from a trendy designer; A planner or strategist, who’s a bit on the geeky side – and will question everything you’ve said in the RFP and in the room; a producer, media, or ops person – who will look a bit frazzled and road-tested, clearly stressing about some deadline they are not meeting because they need to be at the pitch; and the creative person – who’s cooler than everyone, wearing designer jeans, kickass shoes, a mock turtleneck, and fitted jacket – they don’t care about your RFP, they just want to get back to doing award-winning work.  Often they’ll be the person who goes off script and spitballs an idea in the room that’s “so crazy, it might just work”. If you’re lucky, there will be an executive sponsor who will also attend – whose role it is to introduce the agency at the beginning of the meeting, thank you for the opportunity at the end, and occasionally redirect the team if something begins to go South.

This is not your team. Some of these people manage the people who will work on your business. Others you will never see again. The pitch team does, however, give you a view into the agency’s culture. Watch for these cultural cues. More than likely, the strategist or producer will touch your work at some point. Your Account Director, arguably, the most important member of your team, hasn’t been hired yet. This is OK, because agencies typically do not forward invest in resources and don’t have people waiting around for work – you don’t want to pay for this overhead anyway. This creates an opportunity. If you like the pitch team, ask to be included in the interview process for any team members that they hire specifically for your business. Certainly co-employment rules apply, but at least have the option to informally meet the top few candidates the agency is considering to give input. Additionally, working resources (strategy, creative, etc.) are typically part of a shared pool, unless your business is significant enough to justify a dedicated team. At the end of the day, the account director and planner / strategist need to understand your business. The rest can bring best practices from other clients, industries, etc. to bear.

On the other side of the table is your team. Is this the team the agency will be working with? This is equally important. Are there executives who will be the real decision makers on anything from agency selection, to strategy, creative or execution that are not in the room? I like to call these “phantom clients”. These are the folks that appear at midnight, the day before an event or digital campaign launch and change everything based on information only they have, derailing months of carefully orchestrated work. Additionally, are their people on your team that the agency will never work with? Don’t waste their time or your potential agency’s. Make sure your team is as accurate to the working relationship as you would expect the agency to be. Every person on your side, should have a counterpart on the agency’s side. This from day one will set up the relationship for success.

What do you think? What’s important to you and who’s really on your team?


Read More
Business Development Relationships

My Eyes Are Up Here

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"As someone who is currently seeking opportunities, I’ve been surprised at the number of agencies who ask the same interview question. “Which companies do you have relationships with, that you could bring on board if we were to hire you?” Of course, we all recognize that marketing is indeed a relationships business, but in some cases, this question might point to concerns about an agency’s overall business health. Here’s why.

  1. Talent valued on their network, not their skill
  2. Weak pipeline reliant on buying new business through talent acquisition
  3. Agency value proposition not attractive to clients
  4. New business approach not based on strategic inbound / outbound process

This has implications for both talent and agencies.

For talent, it means that your network has tremendous value. Potentially more value than your talents in some cases. Make sure that you build and nurture your business relationships all the time. Above all, protect them. Do not be the person who exploits your network for agency or personal gain. This thinly-veiled approach often leads to the diminishing and devaluation of your network. Certainly, if there is authentic agency value that will honestly help a client solve business problems or exploit opportunities, you should foster that partnership. However, without that, you risk destroying this highly-valued asset. It also means, you should work to ensure the agency you are working for values your skills and contributions beyond your network.

For agencies, it means you might need to evaluate your value proposition, culture, and business development approach. It’s important to understand and clearly articulate your unique value and selling proposition. Secondly, make sure you are hiring talent that contributes to the growth of your business beyond the relationships they hold. This will build a culture of long-term sustainable growth. Finally, evaluate your business development process to ensure it is not based on a dude with a rolodex. This is short term, self-destructive thinking. This experiment ends after a year to 18 months, with some new business won, but that business quickly exiting along with the talent, or frustration with a partnership built on a relationship only, without business value backing it up.

Talent matters.

Relationships matter.

A sustainable approach to business development matters.

I have been fortunate to have a number of clients who have indeed followed me across agencies. More importantly, I’ve followed them through their career. Not to leverage their business for gain, but to find new ways in which I can help them. So how do I answer the question, “Which companies do you have relationships with, that you could bring on board if we were to hire you?” All of them, provided there is an authentic way the agency can solve their problems and add value to their opportunities. Now, let’s talk about what I can do to improve your new business approach.

Read More

Client Service – You’re Doing it Wrong

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"There was a time, not long ago, when event and experiential marketers were simply order takers. A brand would call the agency, or submit a RFP, and the agency would respond with creative, renderings, process and pricing that met the client’s request. If the agency had the lowest price, or the coolest creative, or had the most relevant case studies, or met each specification perfectly, the agency would be hired for the project. If they did a good job, they might be invited back to another RFP or do another project with that brand.

We’ve seen the pendulum swing from project-based work, to retained relationships and back to projects again. This is not an accident. Certainly, increased competition and the rise and evolution of procurement has played a role, however, I believe there is something more at play here. In a word, it’s complacency. Agencies are not innovating, delivering value beyond the ask, or building deep, meaningful relationships with their clients. As a result of this, the gap created is filled by the promise of another agency, who at the time appears hungrier, and is promising the world to a complacent client.

This is expensive on both sides of the equation. Brands lose out because they need to invest in bringing a new agency up to speed before they deliver the value they were promised, which seems to coincide with the agency’s peak and performance plateau leading to the next agency cycle. Agencies lose out because the need to pursue yet another client to replace the brand they lost due to under-servicing — which is far more expensive than keeping the business in the first place.

In the past, the role of an Account Director was to manage the relationship with the client, handle financial matters, and ensure the wheels stayed on the bus from design to execution back of house. The Account Director’s greatest value was managing expectations between client and agency, occasionally yelling at their team, or talking the client off the ledge when something went awry.

Today, client services is so much more than that. On one side of the equation, the Account Director needs to be a strategic consultant – adding demonstrable value to the client at every turn. Relationship management has evolved into driving partnerships. They need to be experts in the client’s business, be the voice of the target audience, the ambassador of the agency, be organizationally savvy, and prove that “sell” is not a four letter world when it means true value to the client. On the other side of the equation, Account Directors must be the voice of the client, drive the strategic and creative process, hold production accountable, and fight for what is right with agency management each and every day. Not to mention, managing the process, financials and driving agency growth along the way. If a client / agency relationship is not growing, it’s dying.

Here are five thoughts and ideas for building and growing world-class partnerships.

  1. Change your alignment. As a Client Services professional, your job is not to “service” the account. It’s to get the client promoted. Understand their personal goals, challenges, and opportunities, and use this understanding to help them succeed.
  2. Build a partnership. Too many agencies fall into the trap of thinking a relationship with a brand is predicated upon a single contact. Most enterprises are built upon the talents of thousands of individuals. If you are doing your job as described in point #1, you are making your client look good, and in turn, building relationships higher in the organizational structure. Take a 3×3 approach, and understand who the three people above and beside each client is. Build a plan to create those relationships. Repeat. Your relationship map should grow exponentially in the course of a year. Additionally, everyone who touches the clients’ business from executives to administrative support should be known by the client. Make sure everyone has a role and a contact they are responsible for building a relationship with.
  3. Know your client’s business. The Bedford Group’s whitepaper, “Client/Agency Relationship Sustainability” states one of the nine reasons clients quit is lack of interest or understanding of the client’s business. Read their annual reports and financial statements. Study their industry. Observe what their competition is doing. Know the dynamics of their business and market.
  4. Add strategic value. The highest valued element an agency can provide to their client according to “The State of the Agency-Client Relationship” by SoDA, is Strategic Leadership. If you understand their business, you can proactively come up with ideas that add value to your client and relationship far better than the vacuum cleaner salesperson’s approach (we’ve got these vacuums, wanna buy one?). In some cases, it even sparks growth in agency services or offerings, and allows you to sell something different. Taking a problem solving or opportunity exploiting approach allows for true innovation. Sometimes simply sharing perspectives on things that are successful in other industries or marketing disciplines creates value.
  5. Be accountable. According to Forbes, when asked what recent changes in marketing influenced them the most, 55% of clients pointed to growing demands for “accountability” as the main factor, with increased scrutiny of results by the CEO and the board.  Yet accountability is their main area of frustration with agencies — 71% point to it as the area that agencies need to improve most. Ensure all work the agency delivers on behalf of a client has a clear view to what success looks like. Create agreed-upon measurable objectives and KPIs and own the responsibility of delivering against these. Also, have regular (quarterly) agency reviews which are as much about measuring the relationship, as they are about measuring the performance of the work. Have metrics in place that hold both the client and the agency accountable for the relationship, with clear rules of engagement at the beginning of the process, and specific action plans to mitigate challenges and repeat / amplify best practices.

There’s a start. Of course there are many other elements to professional client service, but evolving from order-taker to trusted-advisor will help create, build, grow and retain client agency relationships, and create sustainable value for both.

Read More
1 2