I was recently told the story of how the marketing director at a major telco used to refer to the weekly ‘all agency’ conference calls - in which he would divvy out work - as “the weekly rat-fuck.” Now, I don’t know if he was some sick, power-hungry bully or if he simply hated the scene as these otherwise noble agency-types jostled for position and favour. Either way, the results can’t be good for anyone.
Last week I was asked by a managing director about how to best get multiple agencies working together. As a small, specialist agency, we have to work with other agencies with all of our clients. And the only answer that I’ve found is for the client to host agency alignment meetings.
What is an agency alignment meeting?
An agency alignment meeting is where you get all of your agencies together so they can get to know each other, understand what each has been hired to do and work out how to best work together.
A successful agency alignment meeting should lead to greater efficiency, a clearer understanding of who-does-what, better results at a lower cost for the client and more profitable work for every agency involved. A poor agency alignment meeting will be painful for all involved, lead to animosity and be time you will never get back.
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Any agency alignment meeting is better than none. Failing to get your agencies together nearly always leads to confusion, duplicated spend and hours wasted by you, the client, going over why one agency has done something one way to the other.
I have sat through some awful meetings and some brilliant. Here’s what to watch out for…
Make it about the project, not the agencies.
For the first meeting, you will need to do intro’s. But I would urge you to move through these as quickly as possible. I might even be tempted, as the client, to do the intro’s for the agencies. Why? If you have an incumbent agency and a new one added to the mix, it is likely they will feel a little threatened. What we want to avoid is two or more agencies puffing out their chests and trying to be the smartest people in the room. By focusing on the project - growing your inbound marketing, website relaunch or launch of big campaign, for example - the conversation should feel much less threatening to the agencies and on to the thing that they love to do - working out problems.
Get equally senior people from each agency to attend
I’ve been in a few agency alignment meetings where I’m sat across from a junior account exec. They’ve seemed very good but, when put alongside the agency founder, there’s just a massive mismatch in terms of experience, authority, the relationship with the client and the ability to make decisions. One follows process, the other makes it up! Equally, if one agency sends a technical SEO and the other an account director, you’re going to have a really weird meeting. These really are meetings for account management only.
Be clear on the boundaries
For example, what counts as ‘content?’
As a content agency, every SEO and PR firm is after our slice of the marketing budget. Fair enough. But, as the client, you don’t want every article created by one agency challenged by another. At some point (the agency alignment meeting, in fact) you will need to say “we’ve hired Agency X for this specialism and Agency Y for that specialism. I know you both offer both services, but this is the choice I have made. I appreciate your input, but ask that you respect that decision and come with constructive criticism of each others work.”
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Define the process
Just like in a sales and marketing alignment meeting, the clearest and quickest wins will come from mapping out the process - especially if the two agencies need to collaborate.
For example, in the content creation process, keyword input is really helpful at the idea stage (helping to define the editorial calendar) and the proof-edit stage (to ensure the correct level of keyword density, image selection and so on). If you’re managing things through Trello, as we do, then run through that process, step-by-step, in the meeting. Define what a reasonable response time is. Define how to communicate between agencies. This is the dumb stuff that makes all the difference.
Agency alignment meetings are not ‘one and done’
You may have had one great meeting two years ago, but things get ragged. I would recommend repeating the meeting every six months - alternating between in-person and video calls to reduce costs. To really get things moving, I would also recommend looking for projects where the two agencies can work together. Simply put, the more we get to know one another, the more we can collaborate.
The argument for specialist agencies has been well-made elsewhere. And with over 28,000 agencies in the UK alone, you’re going to have to hire multiple specialists. It is a good thing to have people with deep skills and different backgrounds to come together to help your business grow.
Agency people like agency people - we’re cut from the same cloth. We like to collaborate and love a client who gives us the chance to do our best work. As the client, you set the tone for agency collaboration. Invest in these relationships. Don’t be the rat-king. Be the benevolent benefactor of an agency love-in.