The Insights Blog

Leading effective client/agency relationships: the 3P’s

Leading effective client/agency relationships: the 3P’s


Client/agency relationships only last if both parties succeed.

Of course, it was much easier to write that sentence than for clients and agencies to achieve success in real life. Maintaining a highly effective marketing & agency relationship these days requires skills, expertise, and approaches that cover many areas. A way to simplify this long but important list of efforts is to think of it as the “3 P’s” of the marketing & agency relationship: people, processes and plans. You won’t consistently get to the 4th P – the fantastic product (the work!) – without attention to these 3 P’s.

Let’s talk about key aspects of each of these 3P’s that will help marketers and their agencies get set up for success.

The 3P’s to Leading an Effective Client & Agency Relationship
Most key aspects of running an effective marketing and agency relationship can be summarized as part of the following 3P’s:

People: Even with the ever-growing amount of data, marketing technology and AI, the agency business is a people business. The people need to be committed to the relationship and trained in all the skills needed to deliver great work that builds the business.

Processes: Effective marketing and agency work needs effective processes to efficiently succeed and to avoid reinventing things continuously.

Plans: Proper planning helps ensure alignment on what needs to be done: how, when, and why.

Here are some tips in each area – people, processes and plans – to ensure your marketing and agency relationship is set up for success.


Vows: Once upon a time, the client and agency got “married”. They decided to work together in an ongoing relationship. And over time the business has changed, priorities have changed and many of the people involved have changed. Renew your vows to each other! Define the principles that will govern your working relationship.

Respectful Communication & Behaviors: This is a people business, and people are more committed when they are treated well. Are you on time for meetings? Do you listen well? Do you ask questions to understand as opposed to attack? Ask your partner what is working well and what could be better. And prioritize respectful behaviors! You’ll have a more successful relationship.

Creative & Media Evaluation Training: Very few marketers have been trained in the best practices of creative or media plan evaluation. As a result, much of the feedback the inhouse or external agency receives is not based on the brief and often personal taste related. Has your team been trained in how to evaluate creative or media plans?

Feedback Training: There is an art to delivering clear, concise, and effective feedback. Feedback is a gift, and giving effective feedback is critical to better results. Does your team have a proven process for delivering feedback?

Strategy Training: Training budgets everywhere have been cut in recent years, and marketers have never been uniformly fantastic at training strategy and insight identification. This is a big gap in many organizations as great strategy and insights are the partner for great creative and media plans. Together they are the magic multiplier of marketing effectiveness. Do you invest annually in training your team in insight identification and strategy training?

Top-to-Top Calls: Modern businesses are course correcting daily. Your agencies can be more agile and effective when the senior execs are aligned and communicate routinely. Plan (and maintain) a regular cadence for Top-to-Top calls.


Workflow: Campaign workflows and RACI are the starting point to ensure everyone that touches an effort touches it at the right time, with enough lead time to deliver outstanding work. Do you have campaign workflows developed for campaigns of differing complexities and investment levels?

Briefs: The client brief is not the same thing as the creative brief that the agency creates. The client brief is one of the most important documents that a marketer creates and includes measurable business and target audience objectives, key strategies, insights that can be leveraged and defines the deliverables needed from the agency. Great clients share their brief during an interactive work session with the agency to ensure shared understanding and expectations. Are your briefs complete and presented/shared in client-agency work sessions?

The “Must See” Call: There is too much work and too many other pressing issues demanding CMO attention for the CMO to see every ad or communications tactic that airs. There are core efforts that need the CMO’s buy-in and involvement like new campaign ideas, major broadcast work, and significant investment decisions. The “CMO Must See Call” is a routine call with agency, the CMO and all other client levels in attendance that keeps critical work on track and helps the CMO build effective proxies.

Inter-Agency Team (IAT): Many marketers work with rosters of specialist agencies. The IAT is a key approach that helps extend the client’s vision and ensure the entire agency team is working together. Do you have an IAT with a clear charter and processes?

Client/Agency 360: The client-agency relationship is about the performance of both the agency AND the client. The role of the client is every bit as important (and perhaps more so) as the role of the agency. A proper 360 approach includes the agency evaluating the client (in addition to the client evaluating the agency). The ideal approach includes both qualitative feedback and quantitative grading and is administered by an objective and experienced third party. At Mercer Island group we have performed hundreds of these 360 evaluations, have a disciplined and thorough process and have norms available for context. The key is to make this a planned, annual effort. Clients need to know what role they play in their agencies’ effectiveness. Clients that are attentive to how they can be better partners get better work from their agencies.

Annual MSA Review: Most corporate MSAs lack important client and agency protections. And, even if your corporation has a marketing agency specific MSA, it is likely out of date if it was last updated before 2019. The world of Client-agency MSA best practices have changed dramatically in the past few years and continues to change. Most corporate MSAs lack critical protections for the client in areas like media supply chain transparency, digital effectiveness, audit rights, data ownership and other areas. An annual review will benefit both the client and the relationship.


SOW Alignment: The SOW needs to be a clear and detailed document. That is just the starting point, however. A critical aspect of highly effective client-agency relationships is the mutual understanding of the SOW and shared expectations on what the SOW means (and doesn’t mean!) regarding the activities and deliverables that the agency has signed up for. Does this softer side of SOW alignment exist between the marketing team and the agency?

Marketing Calendar: The Marketing Calendar helps the entire team plan their workload and visualize how the year unfolds. It’s a key tool for complex organizations to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. Is your calendar readily available to all key stakeholders?

Annual Plan Briefing: Share the plan for the year with the agency. Discuss the challenges, what is expected and needed and what is ahead. Engage the agency team even deeper in your business.

Target Audience Learning Plan: Marketers and their agencies need to represent the voice of the customer to the organization. Your customer doesn’t stand still – so make it a priority to better understand your customer every day, week and month of the year.

30/60/90 Work Plan: The 30/60/90 Day Work Plan, identifying key deliverables and those responsible, is a great management tool to stay on top of critical activities. It is a great document to help with routine client/agency status discussions. The best 30/60/90 Day Work Plans are updated on a rolling basis so that the day-to-day teams are always cognizant of key deliverables at least 90 days out.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.