Arthur W. Page Society

Working Toward a Common Goal: Making the Most of the Client/Agency Partnership

There was a time when communications teams and agencies had a single role – getting headlines. Those days are long gone and now communications professionals have a proverbial “seat at the leadership table” in major corporations.

But none of us can sit still in those coveted chairs. We must be assertive, creative and action-focused. Corporations rely on agencies around the world for experience and expertise to tackle key issues. Agencies assist in telling a company’s story and provide a dose of outside perspective and intriguing new ideas.

In the spirit of strengthening the critical client/agency relationship, I offer up some thoughts, observations and challenges.

Get the inspiration-machine humming. Agencies need to bring clients ideas for communications-led campaigns which connect with the company’s key stakeholders. Together, clients and agencies need to stay ahead of the trends that appear in today’s headlines and point to long-term demographic changes.

One example: When PepsiCo launched its new Pepsi brand packaging and advertising look in 2008, “optimism” was the central theme of the campaign. Our agency, StrategyOne, was commissioned to do a survey of Millennials in support of this. The results, which reinforced Pepsi’s longstanding connection to youthful exuberance, were fascinating and widely reported.

Integrate, integrate, integrate. At times, communications and marketing can step on each other’s toes. But in the best companies, these departments partner, each letting the other lead when appropriate - but always collaborating. Companies and agencies need to understand what the conversation is between communications and marketing, and how to become part of it.

Another example from PepsiCo is how Gatorade is pioneering in this area with its Mission Control, a “war room” for monitoring the brand in real-time across all social media platforms to help us more effectively promote the G-Series. This was a joint effort between our communications and marketing teams, and we relied on our agency partners to provide insight into how this synergy could be achieved and to benchmark who was doing it best.

The current business model needs a facelift. The assumptions about how agency support is organized and compensated, especially in the uncontrolled environments of earned and digital media, needs to be readdressed.

Simply put, clients buy talent, not agencies, and expect to work with the best teams drawn from a range of disciplines, no matter where they sit structurally or geographically.

And, while there are obstacles regarding compensation, they are not insurmountable as long as both client and agency agree on goals that are attainable and measurable upfront. Remove the politics and find different models to improve interdisciplinary collaboration.

There’s no better time than now for clients and agencies to reshape their relationships. Because there will be a time very soon when we all look back on the main focus of today’s communications and marvel at how much it has evolved and expanded. Let’s be ready together.

Julie Hamp
Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer

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