How to work together
- Create parallel structure at the agency that lines up precisely with the client. This will facilitate alignment up and down the line. Each agency staff member should have a corresponding “partner” at both alliance members. This starts at the bottom and reaches the top of the chain, with agency executive leadership lined up to the highest level at the clients. One agency executive told us that this type of agency staffing also prevents one side of the client partnership from dominating the relationship.
- Ensure that the client recognizes that proper alignment will take extra time. Therefore, extra hours will need to be added to the fee arrangement. This means that the client must be made to understand that since the agency will be the pivot point for integration, it will take extra time to accomplish goals across multiple partners. As one agency executive noted: “We don't want to wait for year-end reconciliations to find out that we haven't been compensated for the time it takes to keep the integration running smoothly. We shouldn't be penalized because an alliance requires extra time and is different from traditional agency arrangements.”
- Maintain senior-level support and strong leadership at all times. Consistent senior level engagement is imperative for all three partners. Giegerich confirms this importance: “As soon as the troops get the signal that the leaders aren't in alignment, those down in the trenches can quickly get lost.” Strong and consistent leadership will ensure that no one party or set of ideas is allowed to take precedent over the other two. It is also morale-building for all three teams' members who can sometimes become overwhelmed by all of the extra process. Strong agency leadership and participation must also be maintained in order to raise a red flag to the client if things are not going right—and strong agency leadership will engender the respect needed to act as a mediator if needed.
- Utilize a clearly defined single process for workflow and for supplier engagements, such as market research and measurement. Everyone agrees that as much process and procedure that can be set and agreed to in advance, the better and faster the eventual outcome. This means that both clients should agree a priori on testing methodologies and benchmarking expectations. A key result should be faster decision-making, which will make agency hours more efficient.
- Use a governance policy to optimize decision-making. Think about it: 2x clients + 2x decision-makers = bigger meetings and the ultimate “ad by committee.” A quadrupling of inputs can sometimes result in the neutralization of good work. If an agency tries to please every master and answer every concern every time, the work itself risks becoming blander and blander as a result. As one executive noted: “All of the alignment that is needed can put a real time crunch on the work, and it can exhaust people. That kind of churn can really be debilitating.”
- Eliminate individual direction derailments. The agency must make sure that direction reflects joint agreements from both client partners at all times. They can't let an individual client make special requests that can cause reworks, resentment, and confusion when presented. There is always the opportunity to use clarifying language in a meeting or by e-mail. “What exactly did you mean? Here is how we understand the request, assignment, etc.”
- Communicate! Open and consistent communication is always the key to success in alliances. It enables transparency and keeps things on track. Codified and agreed upon tools and systems are needed to ensure day-to-day monitoring of workflow. Technology can enable these systems and also protect the work.