Selecting your new agency partner is often a long process and there’s a sense of relief once you have made your choice. There’s almost always a need to start producing work with the agency straight away and this presents you with a risk.

Believe it or not, your new agency team are not mind readers and therefore they’re unlikely to know or understand all your ways of working, systems, processes and brand strategies.

63% of clients say, after only 3 months post selection of a new agency, they are not happy with the agency’s performance and what can often ensue is then a lengthy process of trying to improve the partnership or even going back to the drawing board and reselecting. This wastes valuable time and can prevent key deliverables from being delivered to drive the business.

There is another way which can mitigate this risk and prevent this issue…taking time to onboard your new agency partner is the answer.

I was recently involved in a large-scale selection process and led and delivered the onboarding programme which followed. The time allowed for this was 3 months, although this could be quicker depending on the size and complexity of your business.

Fundamentally, you need to develop a strong partnership between your team (the client) and your new agency team. I use the word partnership because this is how to get the gold standard marketing which changes behaviours and drives growth.

Here’s why this is important.  In a partnership the agency becomes an extension of the team, there is open debate and the relationship is collaborative.  Typically, when the agency is seen more as a ‘supplier’, they’re kept at arm’s length and the relationship is much more transactional.  In a partnership there is open dialogue and the client gets the full potential from an agency, that feels completely empowered.  Issues get resolved quickly whereas with a supplier-orientated relationship sores get rubbed.  People in the agency ask to work on the account – so you’ll get the best talent and they’ll be happy to work on your business for a long time.

To achieve this we wanted to prepare our client team accordingly so we invested in a workshop, ‘How to get the best out of your agency’ (run by Paul Phillips via the PM Society) to get training on how to bring about that partnership and work with the agency at each stage of campaign development.

Here are the top ten principles and activities we put in place immediately after appointing the agency.

  1. Key people from both the client and agency formed an onboarding team, who met regularly to create and review the onboarding plan
  2. We agreed that senior leader involvement from both parties was crucial
  3. We organised a leadership meeting – with senior leaders to cover:
    • Creation of partnership value proposition
    • Agree ways of working and how to measure it
    • How we could inspire the agency about our brands and customers
  4. The clients created training interventions to share ways of working, systems and processes
  5. The agency created training for the client team to understand their ways of working
  6. We jointly created and agreed briefing documents and how they must be used
  7. We completed brand and customer immersions with the agency team
  8. Defined KPIs for the partnership to measure both parties’ performance
  9. The full client and agency team came together for a kick-off meeting to cover:
    • Welcome to agency team by senior leaders from both parties
    • Brand and customer inspiration
    • Discuss 30, 60, 90 day plans
    • Agree ways of working
  10. We built in social interaction* where possible to build relationships within the partnership

* the social interaction was switched to online activities due to the pandemic.

Fundamentally, you want your agency to become a trusted partner that helps you provide value to customers and drives growth for the business. Taking a partnership approach and investing in your new agency by setting them and you up for success is key and should not be underestimated or skipped!

In the example I mentioned, both client and agency teams fed back that the partnership had made a strong start and was set up to succeed together.

Authors: Michael Orriss, Pharmaceutical Marketing Consultant & Paul Phillips, Consultant and Trainer.