Brands often think that they would be comfortable hiring an employee (perhaps they don’t understand the huge potential a client & agency relationship holds) that can manage the marketing operations without understanding the minutiae of it. Hiring right is an art and if not done right can go wrong leading to wastage of money and time. That is why we always suggest the brand that they go with an agency if they are a first timers and are not finding any promising candidates for the job. While the idea of hiring an agency might sound great and easy, let me tell you something; It is not!
Understanding the situation
While discussing about Client & Agency perspectives & their sweet & sour relationships, one of my friends told me about his recent talking about how often it happens that there is a huge difference between what a client briefs the agency and how different the actual plan turns out that the agency came up with. That ultimately stretched the timeline since neither of the sides wanted to compromise on the quality of the work delivered but that is not a good sign if it happens on a regular basis.
This is not an article explaining who’s fault is it, or a story about client vs agency pitted against each other but this article is about setting the expectations right, and making sure that the client and the agency provide each other with the right & relevant information at right stage of the client-agency collaboration.
The most important process in a client-agency relationship is the strategic and creative process. But what’s kind of interesting is that clients and agencies can have really different perspectives about how all this works.
Let me explain first what Strategic Development and Creative Strategy is.
Strategic development is when the client initiates a project and briefs the agency. The client writes an assignment brief, also called a project or business brief. This includes information like the business objective, target audience, and what needs to be communicated.
The agency then translates the client’s project brief into what’s called a creative strategy or brief, which the agency’s creative team then uses to develop the campaign.
Project Brief (Strategic Development) vs Creative Strategy
- Written by the client
- Business and marketing objectives
- Source of volume and target demographics
- Competitive analysis
- Brand purpose and positioning
- Company values or brand character
- Lessons learned from previous efforts
- Approval process
- Measurement and benchmark
- Written by the agency
- Communication and advertising objectives
- Target psychographics and key insight
- Tactical competitive and broad crossindustry perspective
- Alignment through benefit and support (target’s perspective)
- Brand personality (look & feel)
- What to continue vs. optimize
- Measurement and benchmark
- Production and touchpoint recommendations
What’s kind of funny is that the strategic and creative process really hasn’t changed much over the years despite how much marketing has changed due to the digital revolution. Many of the same process challenges today are the same as years ago.
Similarities & Differences
From my own experience and industry studies, I can tell you that client & agency are aligned in some perspectives, but really differ about others. Let’s take a look.
Client and agency tend to agree about these things
- Overall the relationships are strong.
- Longer term relationships benefit everyone.
- There’s trust across the teams, and
- The agency plays an important role in the client’s business strategy.
That’s the good news.
Now here’s where client and agency tend to disagree
- Most clients think they brief their agency well, but agencies think their clients’ briefs are not inspiring and lack true insight.
- Most clients think they have an effective creative approval process, but agencies view the process as complicated, inefficient, and as negatively affecting their ability to develop great creative work.
The Strategic & Creative Process
With those inconsistencies in mind, let’s walk through the five most common steps in the strategic and creative process. As we go through them, I’ll share best practices so you and your agency can be on the same page.
Step I: Discovery
The agency listens and gains insight about what marketing or communications problem you need to solve. They review your project brief and any additional research, ask questions, and review lessons learned from previous efforts.
Step II: Planning
The agency creates personas or example profiles of your target audience to bring them to life and understand how and where to engage them. They develop a comprehensive plan to achieve your goals, which can include a creative brief, messaging, creative or touch points. They’ll define the user experience, which is how people navigate across all the digital touch points.
Step III: Development
Once both sides agree on the plan, development begins. This includes, for example, buying any paid media or developing creative, which can include the website, online ads, email marketing, social media creative, videos and more. Stay involved in this process as the agency team needs your feedback and approval.
Step IV: Measurement
Now you’ll measure how the campaign’s doing in market, review analytics against your objectives, and ask questions such as;
Are we reaching the right people?
Is the message engaging and causing the target to take action?
Are we generating leads and sales?
What’s working well or not well?
Step V: Optimization
Figure out what you’re doing well and what needs to be fixed. Remember this information can be used for the next campaign’s development at step one discovery.
Those are the five steps of the strategic and creative process, discovery, planning, development, execution and management, and optimization. I want to make it clear that you as the client play an integral role in the planning and development of marketing programs and that the agency views you as a valuable contributor to the team. Ensuring that communication is frequent and honest on both sides is key to a long and successful partnership.