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The Brand Manager's Series: How to engage with agencies

The Drum teams with the RAR to speak to some of the UK's top marketers to gain their advice on recognising, appointing and working with marketing services agencies to achieve their core aims. Here, in the first excerpt, we look at how to best engage with agencies and what techniques help to ensure that great results can be achieved when both parties are working together.

The working relationship between the two parties – client and agency – is vital as marketers demand more agency co-operation in order to deliver consistency across their campaigns and all platforms. Certainly this is the view of Helen Normoyle, CMO of furniture retail brand DFS, who offers her experience in bringing those companies – often rivals – together.

Helen Normoyle, CMO of DFS

“First of all, you choose agencies who you believe share that ethos... I have a small team and I have no desire for a bigger one. In order to keep my team lean and working effectively, I want my agencies to work together efficiently and as partners. We’ve been really clear in our expectations and we’ve designed ways of working with colleagues and agency partners. It’s how I like to work. We’re all here to get behind the brand, and for our agencies we expect them to leave agency rivalries at the door.” She continues: “We have monthly inter-agency meetings where we all come together and we rota between agency offices and our head office. The purpose of that is to take a step back and look at the broader picture. We also have weekly planning meetings where all of the planning folk come to our head office and we all go through the work in hand. Getting together is really important. You can do it functionally by Skype, but there still is nothing like people together in a room and spending a day together. With the right people and the right chemistry you develop a real team spirit with levels of trust and respect.”

Phillipa Snare, CMO of Microsoft

At the other end of the spectrum Microsoft UK currently works with over 400 agencies, according to chief marketing officer Phillipa Snare. Microsoft attempts to communicate with these agencies on a regular basis, but only eight play a significant role in the company’s marketing strategy. These strategic partners meet together once a quarter to discuss business priorities and upcoming strategies. “I also talk to them about what they should be collaborating on because it’s not just about product pushes that they’re designing but it’s about how we bring all of those things to market with one voice to the consumer or business,” says Snare. “I ask our agencies to work closely together. In some cases that’s worked really well, and in others, we’re still working on it.” Snare also uses video conferencing with her agencies once a quarter, discussing great work that has been released and offering examples of agency collaboration on Microsoft work. “The reason why I do that is two fold – demonstrating that I like that behaviour and I want to encourage it but also because I’ve noticed that the agency world is pretty small. It’s a group of people who are all connected in some way and when people move roles they tend to move within agencies that everyone has heard of – so they’re just swapping talent. So why not do it openly? Why not show and share when someone has done a great piece of work within one agency with another agency? At one time or another they are going to poach them anyway – so I try to open up people development as well.”

Amanda Jobbins, CMO of Sage

Amanda Jobbins, CMO of Sage, believes that transparency between the two parties is vital in achieving success. “I often ask people to make it easy for me to buy from them and come forward in a modular way that I can engage with them. Let’s get started on something small, let’s build our relationship and it will grow over time as the trust grows.” As she explains, however, agencies are often bad at doing that. “I’ve found it to be a black and white situation where I’m told ‘you either buy our entire methodology for the entire project or we won’t have a relationship’,” she adds. “The agencies that I need to work with me, where needed, start small – then you learn and grow together.” This is a concern echoed by many of the other marketers we spoke to about how they begin their agency relationships.

Donna Howitt, marketing director of Liverpool One

Liverpool One marketing director Donna Howitt also believes agencies and marketing departments must work in unity in order to utilise experiences and expertise. She says that if there are clear signs that the agencies fully understand the brief and the environment in which they are operating, then they should be afforded trust to be creative. “The key thing for me is don’t be afraid to try new ideas,” says Howitt. “The world is their oyster at the moment and digital offers a real opportunity to test new techniques but new ideas will only achieve cut through if people are willing to be brave and experiment.” She adds that a clear brief at the beginning of the process is also vital.“If you don’t brief clearly at the outset, you face a fair few challenges and come into difficulties in terms of delivering to the times set out. It just has to be absolutely clear from the outset what it is you want to get out of agencies. We try to treat them as an extension of our own team.” Of course, just like in sports, all great teams can’t go on forever. So why should a marketer aim to spend as long as possible working with their agencies and develop a long-term relationship rather than moving on every year or two. If you are working with an agency for a long period of time it is because you are still successfully working together on business performance, brand development and so on. You’d have a fantastic understanding of the business, you’d have a high degree of trust and integration and you’d probably be able to move through things much more quickly and at speed,” explains Normoyle. “When teams are in the zone, it’s hard to describe, but everybody knows as there is a flow and an ease with which things can get done. Agency partners then really become part of the team and come up with their own ideas, but what is important to watch for is that you don’t go native and you don’t get stale. From the agency side it’s always good to introduce new people to the account – but in a managed way to keep that level of thinking.” So what is clear is that engaging with agencies well is a crucial aspect of any successful marketer’s role. Without a close working partnership it becomes harder to effectively deliver clear, effective marketing outputs. Getting those relationships right and handling them to everyone’s approval and benefit should never be understated. Marketing budgets are invested, not spent. And the chances of a healthy return on those investments is enhanced significantly by engaging well with the right agency partners. year or two?The next part of this series will discuss how brands can best recognise and appoint the right agency. This piece was originally published as part of The Recommended Agency Register (RAR) Brand Manager's Book, released last year. A copy of the RAR Brand Manager's Bookis available for free online to client-side marketers. For more information on the Recommended Agency Register, see its newly launched website.

UK, Liverpool One, DFS, Sage, Microsoft, Advertising, Design, Digital Transformation, Modern Marketing, Future Of Media, Mobile, Social Media