Executive Vice President of Client Experience Ashley Gill shares tips for building a strong client-agency relationship. 

Partnerships can be tricky things. Some flourish with natural ease, while others are lucky to survive. The client-agency partnership is no exception. While everyone does their best to make an excellent first impression, it's common for clients and agencies to not live up to each other’s expectations. But what should those expectations even be? 

After more than 20 years working in the field of agency client service, I've experienced my fair share of mismatched pairings. But more importantly, I've also seen and felt the magic that happens when clients and agencies both understand their roles and deliver. 

As the leader of Client Experience at Adept, my team and I know agency partnerships can be a critical part of a marketing team's success. Agencies bring an outside perspective and industry knowledge to help supplement an in-house team. But to do so, agencies need to be set up for success by the client team. The magic doesn't happen by chance. It happens by design and focus, and there are six key ways clients can optimize their agency relationships and ultimately increase their ROI.

6 Ways Clients Can Optimize Agency Relationships

1. Think of your agency partnership as an extension of your team, not an outside vendor. You've engaged with your agency for both ideas and execution - ideally across many marketing channels. Open the lines of communication with your agency team in the same way you do your in-house colleagues. Communicate directly about roles and responsibilities and think of your agency as a thought partner because that's what the team wants to be. Great agencies care deeply about your success and want to become an extension of your team.

2. Share everything with your agency (the good, the bad and the ugly). Failed marketing ideas, existing business and operational challenges, budget realities, expectations from leadership, and elephants in the room are all insights that can positively or negatively impact progress. The more your agency knows, the more the team can help think and strategize on your behalf. This is especially critical at the beginning of the relationship.

3. Invest in strategy if you want results. Many marketing teams are anxious to get right to work executing tactics with a desire to show results. But an agency can't drive results and be your long-term partner until the team has taken the time and done the work to develop a holistic strategy. When you undertake something like building a house, you don't buy materials and hammer things together. You engage an architect and pay for a blueprint. Then you hire the builder and execute according to the blueprint. Any changes to that blueprint are discussed openly to maintain alignment. Digital marketing works the same way. Once your agency develops a blueprint, the team can help you build an ROI model for your program that will become the foundation of many efforts.

4. Let your agency help you sell ideas and build consensus internally. Often, marketing efforts within an organization may be siloed or coordinated by separate business units. Strong agency partners want to help you break down barriers internally and engage stakeholders to build consensus for your marketing efforts. The team wants to attend your internal meetings and presentations to help you articulate strategy and tactics and answer questions. In many cases, the agency can help uncover additional opportunities and can create a bridge for new relationships and partnerships on your behalf.

5. Don't fear the data. Your digital marketing agency's job is to know what data is necessary and how often to measure and report it to see patterns. Patterns lead to insights, which lead to recommendations. It's in our DNA at Adept to use data to evolve strategy over time because it's part of the ROI model we develop together. But don't let your agency dump data on you. A good agency will always explain the information clearly with context and provide specific recommendations on what to do next.

6. Feedback is a gift that keeps on giving. Setting aside time every quarter to meet as teams outside of the day-to-day work to talk about how a relationship is essential to longevity. If no one addresses what is working and what is not working, how can anyone improve? The “how we’re working” is just as important as what we’re working on. These meetings, and the improvements that come out of them, are essential to developing a trusted, long-term partnership.

It takes a lot of time, money and energy to find the right agency partner. But the real work begins after the contract is signed on the dotted line. The agency team should bring strategic thinking, act proactively, explain how data translates into insights, provide creativity, make recommendations and deliver tactics flawlessly. When this work is done in strong partnership with the client team, that’s when the real magic happens.