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Winning the Multi-Agency Game: Can't We All Just Get Along?

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As interactive marketing agencies, we're asked to play many different roles for our clients -- media buying, media planning, trafficking, analytics, and the list goes on. One role, though, seems to present more challenges than any other, and it's typically the one role rarely discussed: when we're asked to play nicely with our clients' other agencies.

Now this may be a sensitive subject, but there are a few reasons why this turns into such a challenge:

  • We think we know it all (yes, even if it's true, this can present problems).

  • We don't have any interest in hearing about others' opinions when it comes to what we run, how we run it, or how long we run it.

  • We're too focused on driving revenue or transactions to see beyond our short-term goals.

  • And this is a toughy to admit: we're stubborn!

Now some of you might be sitting there thinking, "Those assumptions look like assets to me. They've gotten me to where I am today." That's true! They are assets, but not necessarily in a multi-agency situation.

Let me give you a scenario: The year is 2025, and your agency is responsible for search, feeds, mobile, media, and SEO for a large retail client. Let's assume that this client spends roughly $25 million online and only about $1 million in other media. A meeting is called where it's announced that every agency needs to start working together to be sure that all marketing efforts align.

Now be honest, what's your first thought? Mine might be something like, "Great. I can't wait for these 'little' agencies to come in here and wreck the well-oiled machine I've built."

But here's the thing, even though that might be the perception held by many of today's traditional agencies, the reality can be the exact opposite. From client-to-client, you might be the "big guy" or the "little agency," depending on perspective. So, we have a duty to be good ambassadors to the rest of the advertising world.

Want to grow your budget while impressing the client? Be nice to the big boys, and help them in every way possible. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it -- we throw our hat in the ring as the ones who will ensure that the online brand voice matches the offline. We actually do it, and we do it well. As a result the entire organization notices. Pretty soon, we're in all of the important meetings, and we're getting more budget to keep it up.

Trust me, it sounds simplistic, but it works. The old "show 'em rather than tell 'em" adage applies to multi-agency relationships as much as it does with internal company workings.

A few tips for those times when you find yourself in a multi-agency situation:

  • Drop the online-only jargon -- not everyone knows what a spotlight tag is.

  • Encourage other agencies to add their thoughts. Be open to discussing how your strategies could be better.

  • Start using words like "we" rather than "I" to encourage collaboration. Also, don't mention your company name before every statement you make. People recognize your voice on the line, they recognize the team players, and they will learn where the great ideas are stemming from.

  • Take the lead on setting up informal calls or meetings outside of those arranged by the client team.

  • Not everyone from every team needs to be in every meeting. This isn't a game of "he with the biggest team wins." It sounds ridiculous, but task forces do work!

It sounds a bit like rainbows and unicorns, but try to put aside your personal bias and look at this as an opportunity rather than drudgery. In the long run, being strategic, authoritative but nice, will win the multi-agency game for the most important player -- the client.

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