I was in a meeting with a potential new client last week when he made the comment, “I prefer not to work with a hippopotamus,” when describing his current agency relationship. Of course, when someone makes a comment describing their agency partner as a hippo, you assume there must be more to the story. He went on to elaborate, “I don’t want to work with someone who has a big mouth and small ears.” This led to conversation around a deeper question – what should a client look for in an agency partnership? In response, we’ve put together some helpful hints to find, collaborate, and communicate effectively with an agency that’s a good fit for your business. Whether you have worked with an agency for years or you’re just starting to explore what a partnership could look like, we hope these hints help.

Hint #1: Nobody knows your business as well as you.

Most agencies – at least the profitable ones – have more than one client, and each client is unique. Even if the agency has a depth of experience in an industry like Chartwell (healthcare, financial and education), odds are that each client within that industry is still different. A good agency partner shouldn’t come in pretending to know all the answers for your business, but they should know all the right questions to ask. Look for an agency that asks a lot of questions and pulls knowledge from your team. If you don’t feel like your agency is taking the time to listen from the beginning, it may not be a match made in heaven.

Hint #2: While you know your business, a good agency knows theirs.

Creative agencies are expert communicators and story tellers, and the good ones know quite a bit about the nuances of content strategy, branding, and positioning. Listen to suggestions about ways to reframe key messages so they are more compelling or effective. Be willing to hear their counsel on creative direction. Be open to new ideas and ways of promoting your services and products. The breadth of projects and clients on which they’ve worked give them extensive experience with marketing strategies and insight on what options will work best for you – use them!

Hint #3: Speak clearly about expectations and whether or not they are being met.

An agency partnership is like any other relationship – it thrives on communication. Set clear expectations about deliverables, response times, and what success looks like. When things aren’t going well, say something to address the issue before it impacts your business. And when they are going well? Say something then, too! After all, who doesn’t appreciate a “kudos!” now and then?

Hint #4: Be transparent about budget.

Both agencies and their clients will probably say that the most awkward conversations are around budget. While those conversations can feel adversarial, they don’t have to be. Just like you, your agency wants to do great work and be profitable. If you can be transparent about what budget you have for a given initiatives, a good agency partner will be able to work with you to find alternatives that work within it.  Work together to find solutions that are win-win for you both even when budgets are tight.

Hint #5: Help make the sausage!

You should be a part of the process of developing messaging and creative. Gone are the Mad Men days where your creative agency goes off into a closed office, dreams up a winning campaign, and presents it to your team for approval. You should be integrated into the creative process, offering feedback and review at several steps along the way. No matter how attached they are to their designs or work, your agency should listen to your feedback and incorporate your insight. After all, this is about YOUR organization.

At Chartwell Agency, we pride ourselves on great relationships with our clients. We hope these helpful hints help you forge a great agency relationship, too.