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The client-agency effectiveness checklist

The client-agency effectiveness checklist

The client-agency effectiveness checklist

How can clients and agencies know they are ready for a great year together?

We’ve written about the 3P’s that lead to effective client-agency relationships. The people need to be committed to the relationship and trained in all the skills needed to deliver great work that builds the business. Effective marketing and agency work needs effective processes to efficiently succeed and to avoid reinventing things continuously. And proper planning helps ensures alignment on what needs to be done: how, when, and why.

Is your client-agency relationship ready for success? Use the following checklist to gauge your readiness and highlight opportunities to enhance your joint effectiveness.

The Client-Agency Checklist: Readiness for a Great Year

Vows: Has the client-agency team recently reviewed the principles that will govern your working relationship? 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!

SOW Alignment: Are you aligned on scope? 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 client and agency?

Marketing Calendar: Does the agency have clear line of sight to the client’s 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.

Workflow: Is there a clearly delineated workflow that takes into account both client and agency responsibilities? 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: Are your strategic briefs complete and presented/shared in client-agency work sessions? 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.

Rolling 30/60/90 Work Plan: Is this a basic planning staple? The Rolling 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.

Top-to-Top Calls: Do you have a regular cadence for 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.

The “Must See” Call: Do you ensure agility and efficiency with a regular “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 creative review 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): Do you have an IAT with a clear charter and processes? 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.

Client/Agency 360: Is an annual client-agency 360 a norm for your operation? 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: Have you reviewed the MSA together to be sure it is up to-date and meets the needs of both parties? 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.

Annual Plan Briefing: Has the client-agency team jointly reviewed the annual marketing plan? 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: Is there a formal plan to learn more about your target audience? 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.

Approval Processes: Are they clear to the entire team and embedded in tactical work planning?

Business Conversations: Is there a defined cadence to continuously update the client-agency team’s mutual understanding of the state of the business?

Many marketing and agency executives immediately dive into marketing strategies or tactics without a complete understanding of the business issues involved. A clear understanding of the company’s business issues should always be the starting point for any effort. Is the overall business issue sales related? Market share related? Is it about competition? In our experience, executives that can have more productive discussions regarding the firm’s business issues are more successful because they bring that understanding to their key projects. The ability to have these business conversations is an important skill for marketers and agency executives.

Business Need Alignment: Is there client-agency alignment around the basics that drive a successful marketing investment:

– What is the primary business impact needed as a result of the agency’s work?
– What level of agency talent do you expect on your business and are you willing to pay market rates for that talent?
– Clarity regarding the client’s future business needs?
– Are we analytically defining the best mix of strategies and investments that drive both short- and long-term success?
– What is the client & agency’s holistic technology strategy?

Training Plans: Does the client-agency team have clear plans to ensure skill development in key areas:

– Strategy Training
– Strategic Insight Development
– Creative & Media Evaluation Training
– Feedback Training

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.