Having worked in companies that use agencies, and now working at an agency, I've seen both sides of the coin. This puts me in the perfect position to give some advice on how to truly get the most out of the relationship with your agency.
Taking traditional wisdom into account we should first consider two routes to success; the carrot and the stick. It is time to see which method works best…
The carrot or the stick?
The phrase “the carrot or the stick” is a popular metaphor about using rewards or punishment to reach your desired outcome. Both methods are so often used in business situations however I shall explain why, in my experienced view, neither works when it comes to agency-client projects.
Firstly, the stick. This is simply not a good idea. Using negative outcomes to try and motivate individuals to work hard, go above and beyond to deliver for you through fear of being disciplined or humiliated in a work environment simply is wrong and does not work. You may see small gains when the threats are made, yet ultimatums ultimately demotivate. They undermine the respect in working relationships, create communication barriers and engender resentment, none of which lead to anyone wanting to deliver their absolute best for each other. A client-agency relationship is already broken if we have got here and we will not achieve great results.
The carrot is also a precarious choice as a motivator. While it might seem the better of the two as it rewards individuals positively, it still has the wrong essence at heart. Again any rewards are likely to be temporal, fleeting and do not benefit the working relationship in the long term. By all means offer rewards, within legal limits within projects, and if looking for good things to do for your team mates, send positive reviews your project counterparts to the wider project teams when good works is done or achievements are made, give them a shout out, thank them publicly or privately, these things build mutual respect and enjoyment of working together. Just don’t expect but don’t expect to build a lasting set up for success based on the idea of a ‘project night out’ or ‘goodies from the warehouse’, it will never work.
So, the short answer is neither the carrot nor the stick method works when trying to get the most out of your agency, both represent short term and hollow grasps at motivating wider team members and are always eventually forgotten or overridden. Instead, follow my top, tried and tested personal tips on how to work with an agency and get the most out of them.
You can never be too clear. Especially when it comes to the needs of your business and the reasons why they are your needs. Take the time to explain not only the what but the why. Why something is important to the business but more significantly, why something is important to you. Take time to provide relevant context, and detail why certain tasks take precedence over others. All of this allows agencies to get to know you as a business but moreover, personally and at the end of the day work is done by a team of people.
Walking through your wider business plans with your agency, and leaning on them to use their industry knowledge and expertise, will help you to organise and structure a project plan and development roadmap around your priorities and timescales. Building this plan not only with you but around you will ensure it accommodates your working timescales, pinch points and of course deadlines.
When you begin a new project with any agency, you should see that agency as an extended group of your own team, you are all working together towards the same collective goal afterall. Try to work peer-to-peer, remove hierarchy and speak plainly. You will get the absolute bare minimum success from an agency partner if they are simply hired to complete a task, barked orders at, and given no explanation as to why you need what you have asked for.
Provide consistent and constructive feedback. If your agency happens to go off track, let them know quickly and politely. Often projects evolve with new ideas and concepts developed in real time, but the end goal will almost always remain the same. If you have followed the above you should feel like you can be open and honest with your new partners, speaking to them when something is missing, late or not as you expected. We are all just people and can make mistakes and should learn as we progress alongside each other.
I hope I've managed to emphasise that partnering with agencies is a collaborative task, where everyone is working together to meet the same goal. Therefore, I highly recommend working hard at cultivating a human, collaborative working relationship with your new team members. I promise that it will ensure faster delivery, an overall higher standard, and you may happen to strike up some new friendships along the way.