Agency secrets I wish I'd known as a brand manager

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Brand managers lessons from the agency side
Brand managers lessons from the agency side

Treating your agency with respect—relying on its creativity, expertise, and problem-solving abilities—can help you attain long-term success for your brand.

Having spent the better part of the first 19 years of my pharmaceutical marketing career as a client, I now find myself heading up Strategic Planning and Account Management for Dudnyk.  I thought I knew the ad agency game pretty well as a brand manager, but there are definitely things I've learned since joining the agency that I wish I'd known when I was a client. 

Lesson 1: Great Creative Takes Time. 

As a brand manager, I was always pushing to beat deadlines because I knew that the sooner I could introduce a new tactic into the field, the faster I could begin generating demand from that tactic.  Sometimes I'd be downright unreasonable to my agencies, asking them to turn around concepts in less time than it took me to explain what I wanted! 

I rationalized my behavior by blaming it on tight media deadlines or conference opportunities.  But in reality, it was my own lack of foresight and planning that caused the “fire drill.”

What I failed to realize is that I was really short-changing the creative process.  Creative ideas are like fine wine; they get better with time.  What I needed to do was to look farther ahead and bring my agency into the planning process earlier, so there would be ample time to develop truly great creative. 

Lesson 2: Great Agencies Solve Problems, Not Just Develop Ads. 

As the leader of several brand teams, I always felt it was my responsibility to have all the answers.  After all, I was often the one answering questions from senior management.  And while I prided myself on considering my agencies as my business partners, I probably didn't go far enough to leverage the full capabilities they could offer. 

Great agencies thrive on solving problems – creative or strategic.  The key is that you have to give them all the input and background info you have, so they can work the problem with you.  They can draw on vast experiences built from working with other clients and categories… and as a result, come up with solutions that are not just merely clever, but are truly effective as well.

Lesson 3: It's All About the Brief (and the Estimate).  

There are two tools that are essential for project success: the creative brief and the project estimate.  Think of them as your compass and map.  Without either tool you could be lost in the woods for days.  And just like a compass that doesn't always point north, a creative brief that is not tightly focused on a single-minded idea will not get you to on-target creative. 

Likewise, accurate estimates are the financial maps for any project.  I used to believe that I could “squeeze” my agencies.  But it's really not about getting a better deal, it's about reaching project goals – and that means doing it right, not just doing it for less.  What I hadn't realized is that I was actually compromising my goals.  What I should have done was to make tradeoffs, taking my entire budget into consideration, not just my agency fee. 

So, make sure you understand your agency's perspective and cut corners somewhere else in your budget – otherwise, you could find yourself with a faulty compass and half a map!

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