By Glen Fellman, Head of Creative – Okay, what I’m sharing isn’t quite the same as a magician giving away trade secrets, but there’s a smidge of controversy in what I’m encouraging client-partners to do. Suffice to say, these bullets contain some secrets to motivating an agency-partner to level up their thinking, do it quicker, and cut down on unpleasant surprises that result in wasted time. We all know what “time” means in an agency relationship, right? (It rhymes with honey.) Let’s get to it.

Here are 3 ways to can get more powerful work from your agency-partner.

1.     Present challenges and opportunities versus submitting orders

When you engage your agency-partner, make the assignment about a business challenge or opportunity. More importantly, make sure the core business issue is well defined. Knowing that a sales slump is symptomatic of another issue, consider the root cause? Ask your agency-partner to address the root cause instead of simply asking for an ad that will increase sales or a website redesign because the existing look is getting long in the tooth.

When asking your agency-partner to address a core business issue, seek approaches to solving the core issue instead of ordering a set of deliverables you think will do the job. Involve your agency-partner in specifying the deliverables that could be part of the approach you BOTH agree is likely to solve the core issue instead of handing them a list of deliverables. This elevates their accountability.

Finally, find a way to ensure the challenge or opportunity you presented is conveyed accurately in the creative brief and that the success metrics it contains are relevant to the task at hand. The best way to do this is to insist that you review and approve creative briefs.

2.    Ask to see work early, often, and in rough form.

The tendency with agency-partners is to want to perfect the work before sharing it with you. They want the work to be in a state that you can approve, as is, if possible. This is a misguided effort that ends up wasting more time than it saves. Express a desire to see work in the early stages when it’s just a “sketch” or a “seed” of an idea. This will enable you to head off ideas that are off strategy with time enough to course correct. It’ll also encourage your agency-partner to present more challenging (and interesting) ideas because they’ll have time to pressure test it.

Ask your agency-partner to present ideas to you multiple times, if needed, as they take shape. This is because ideas in their infancy aren’t something that can be sent via email and be expected to be understood. As your input shapes the work and it increases in its fidelity, “sending it over the wall” becomes more acceptable. When in doubt, ask for a presentation.

3.   Make sure everyone knows how to give and receive feedback.

The whole point of reviewing work during development is to ensure it’s as effective as possible. A review-session should not be viewed as a kill-session. Sure, sometimes ideas die (and some ideas need to die) but productive review sessions should generate specific actionable feedback grounded in a “why” that makes the work stronger.

“It’s boring.” is not specific nor actionable.

“The music is low-energy and the pacing of the edit seems slow.” is specific and actionable.

Teach your internal team to focus their feedback on the aspects that are wrong, unclear, missing, off strategy, and why they feel that way. Opinions are good, but not good enough.

“I don’t like blue.” is an opinion.

“Blue is our competitor’s main color. Explore options.” is wrong.

“The color scheme feels ominous. This should be hopeful.” is something that’s off strategy.

As with the original assignment, offer feedback as a challenge instead of a prescribed solution. Don’t expect solutions to be found in the review-session. Agency folk like to try and solve issues on the spot. The problem is, they’re trying to save time by saving the idea and not having to rethink the work. Your goal is to end up with the most powerful work, so give your agency-partner time to think, act, and present their approach to the issue at the next review.  

Finally, don’t let your agency-partner leave a review session without ensuring they’re crystal clear on the issues that need to be addressed. Agency folk don’t like to appear like they’re pushing back too much, but trying to understand the “why” behind a piece of feedback isn’t pushing back, it’s seeking clarity. You want clarity. Ensure your agency-partner knows it and then don’t let them off the hook.  

 * That said, an agency could easily turn the tables and make this about things they could do to get better assignments from a client-partner. So, there’s that.