4 things a marketer should know when contracting a job to an agency

Published by Jakub Lebuda on 02/08/2016

I have been the founder and CEO of Clipatize for nearly 4 years now. We have carried projects in Poland, with Central and Eastern Europe divisions, European headquarters, Dubai-based MENA hubs or in the US. I’d like to share with you an agency perspective on working with B2B marketers and clients - either my own or coming from other communication agencies I had the pleasure to meet along the way. This can be bitter, this can be too frank, but it’s real. And I sincerely hope it can make you, a better you.


1. Roll out quickly

TL; DR: Brief extensively, pick a winner and rollout immediately. Multi-stage agency selection process can actually provoke more harm than benefit


An agency will typically take between a couple of man-days and man-weeks to prepare a proposal meeting your brief within the tight deadline you set. Its team will need to work overtime, at weekends and under high pressure. This is a substantial financial and strategic investment from the agency side. It has limited resources to fight for the contract you offer and its attention at the same time needs to be focused on other briefs and ongoing projects, too. So:


Be open about how many agencies you have briefed; when you plan to take the decision and how much (a range) you are willing to spend on the job. If you lack transparency you can be sure that the agency will not be fully frank  or engaged either.

Be sure to pick a winning agency promptly after proposal submission deadline. If you miss to communicate swiftly on the tender results and continuously re-define the project scope, request extra information (detailed delivery plan, pricing options, timelines, etc.) you will be increasing the upfront cost of an agency. This will be slowly killing enthusiasm of proposing agencies and at the same time it will make them put a greater focus on making up for the invested resources once the project is contracted.

If you think you can repeatedly push the agencies to give you more before contracting, it could happen that once you do, the agency will be focusing on optimising the costs of work to ensure projects profitability rather than focusing on project excellence.

Therefore brief extensively, pick a winner with no delay and rollout immediately. Multi-stage agency selection process can actually provoke more harm than benefit.



2. Take the bullet

TL; DR: It is always your fault if your agency underperforms


I was pretty much astounded when a marketer, a client of mine, has reported to his CEO that the fault for under-delivery of the project was actually his own rather than our agency’s. A typical behaviour - I expected - would be to blame the agency in order to safeguard own position of the marketer, right? Then the client told me that he believed that once the agency is recruited, it becomes the team of the marketer, her responsibility. With such framing every mistake, mis-delivery will be a result of your mismanagement: you either didn't ensure enough support, the job was not clearly defined or you recruited the wrong guys. And this could potentially put you in a difficult situation but will surely win strong loyalty of the agency and its superior performance.


I understood why a marketer should take responsibility for the agency she hires only when I saw my team becoming hugely committed to this client’s success. They knew he would defend them in their eventual flops, therefore they wanted to show their professionalism and never let him down again. They did care more then they would care for an ass#!@&.


Dear Marketer, the agency is own team - if they know you are their supporter, their care-giver, they will give you all best work they can. Be sure to find a capable agency, clearly define the job and show support. Everything else should go smoothly.



3. Procurement is not your enemy, but not your ally either 

TL; DR: Get involved in the selection process of an agency


Selecting an agency is a process shared by the marketer and the procurement manager. But as this process is often bounded by complex purchase procedures, marketers tend to give up on their selection rights and agree to work with the agencies shortlisted by the procurement department.


I have learnt numerous times that selection criteria defined by marketers are twisted by procurement managers so that best proposals win, not best agencies. Therefore be sure to have a say and negotiate with procurement managers to go beyond quantitative criteria. Quantitive criteria, although considered objective are easy to meet. It works pretty much like in SEO projects - agencies propose focused on anticipating selection algorithm, not the client’s needs. So go beyond quantitative criteria. Let me use an example here: timeline for video production. Typically, it makes sense to use 4 to 8 weeks for a quality deliverable, especially if you want to have space to accept client’s feedback. We initially were really frank about that with clients but it just made us lose tenders a couple of times. So now we started to propose 2 weeks max just to win on that criterion. We comment on the timeline and discuss it with the marketer as soon as we can, but that rarely happens before contracting. If the client really want us to deliver within 2 weeks, we still can, but we also try to explain to the client the downsides of the hurried production process and usually get a green light on timeline extension. We often tried explaining these subtleties to procurement managers but somehow failed in getting their understanding and empathy. So what is the best way to go? Avoid or minimise quantitative selection criteria, stay open to discussion with agencies, meet their project teams and rely on intuition - similarly like in recruitment processes.


4. Brief extensively and value curiosity 

TL; DR: Brief and debrief to make sure the agency understands your goals. Use this process for interim selection of the agencies.


I wanted to put this as rule no 1, but as I know marketers often dislike briefing (even dislike talking about how important that is, LOL), I have moved it further down my list.


Briefing is key, especially in the B2B sphere - your domain is pretty much complex and if you expect a team of strategy and creative guys to get on the same page with you, you better give them a good book to read first. This will entail a lot of preparatory work on your end; collecting documents, research results, competition analysis, industry examples, etc. but will definitely increase the chance for your success. Single email forwards, one line briefs seem a quick way to start, but a lengthy one to go. Be prepared if you expect the agency to be well prepared as well.


An extensive brief is key, but still it is often a subjective narrative. Facts and vocabulary familiar to you might not be obvious for the agency. Therefore ensure space for questions and respond extensively. Debriefing phase, beyond making sure the goals are clearly defined, can become your secret weapon in the agency selection process. You will be able to spot the curious ones, marketing rebels and mis-fits. You will see how the agency interprets the facts and puts the puzzle together.



This article was published originally on LinkedIn here

Image via Unsplash.com, see it here


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