Last week I read an interesting article in the Drum. As part of its Agencies4Growth festival, the publication was looking at why agencies matter. This piece was an interview with Janelle Orozco, Diageo’s chief procurement officer, to find out why the brand values its agency relationships.
The focus was on why businesses would invest in agencies when they could simply appoint the talent they need inhouse. This isn’t a new topic of conversation, nor is it one that has a simple answer. There are arguments for and against.
What was interesting was that Janelle was able to see the benefits to both. In particular, the added value that comes from having the right agencies that can work as an extension of a brand team.
She commented: “The best agencies can be truth tellers, helping you see what you are missing. Brands and companies can benefit from an external perspective to hold up a mirror or shine a light on something that can be missed when you are too close to the problem or too wedded to how things have always been done. Great agencies have a breadth of perspective from working with clients across sectors, and, often, around the world.”
Building strong relationships
It may seem obvious, but building strong relationships is so important when you are working with an agency. It is likely you will be providing them with access to confidential information that could be business critical.
It is crucial that you can share your real thoughts and feelings on some challenging subjects. PR isn’t always straight forward and having honest conversations will result in meaningful outputs. It will also allow the agency to deliver recommendations that have a positive impact.
There are times when agencies and clients disagree. That is fine. Like anything, some topics will be up for discussion. Campaigns will need reviewing and ideas refining. Again, having the relationships in place that allow you to do this productively will deliver stronger results.
When times are hard and relationships are tested, it should become obvious why agencies matter. If not, then there may be some changes that need to be made.
Transparency leads to trust
When we launched in 2008, one of the values of our business was to be transparent with our clients. Nothing has changed. What we have seen over the years is that clients appreciate how we choose to operate.
Hiding costs, increasing budgets and making huge margin on bought in items just isn’t our way. It has never sat comfortably with us, and never will.
Clients know that when they appoint us as their preferred PR partner, they will get honest advice. Furthermore, the ideas and campaigns that we put forward will be realistic. We always work towards meeting with objectives so that our results have a meaningful impact.
We never take our clients for granted and being truthful with them means they can trust us. Working in this way allows our relationships to evolve from third party supplier to trusted confident very quickly. It also provides our clients with the results and experience that gives them evidence of why agencies matter.
In the piece from the Drum, Janelle comments: “Then, of course, there is the magic of the work agencies co-create alongside marketing teams”.
This really resonated with me, as it is exactly how we approach campaigns for clients. Rather than assume we have all the answers, we pool our resources and ideas. It may be a brainstorm or a briefing session, but we make sure we access all the talent that is available to us.
It is important to remember that clients, just like agency employees, have mixed experiences. This could be from previous roles and may even be agency side. As such, the strongest campaigns are often those that have been shaped by the whole team.
We know that we have the skills as an agency to build and deliver campaigns from scratch, however working collaboratively means our clients get the best of both worlds. We often find that the brand managers we work with want to be involved. As such, working together allows them to do that. It also means we can all share and celebrate success.
Far from de-valuing what an agency can bring to the table, it just means that the campaigns will be influenced by everyone involved.
The reason that most businesses invest in agencies is to add value. There should be no dispute that the companies you choose to work with are delivering a return on investment. If they aren’t, then it may be time to review those relationships.
Although we are a PR and content management agency, our clients know that they can come to us with any questions that they have. They also know that we will give them our honest opinion on any subject. It may not be what they want to hear but it goes back to transparency and trust. It also means we are giving them the added value they are looking for.
I remember a meeting we had with a client. We had gone off topic several times and ended up talking about some challenges this client was facing. It had nothing to do with PR, but that was the point. As they left, they turned around and said: “I love our meetings. It’s like a counselling session and a monthly catch up all in one.”
If there was ever a statement that proves why agencies matter, then this has to be it. For us, that’s exactly how it should be. We don’t just meet with objectives or deliver results. We add value where it has greatest impact.
Working with an agency
A critical factor to the way that we work with our clients is exactly that. We work with our clients. We do not work for them. The difference this one small word makes is quite astonishing.
When you start a relationship with the attitude that a supplier works for you, it creates barriers. Changing the way that you look at this will allow you to move from having suppliers to partners. It also helps people to feel valued and that they are part of a wider team. Furthermore, it delivers a stronger return on investment. After all, agencies will work harder for those that value their time and expertise.
In the article from the Drum, Janelle concludes: “In summary, agencies continue to be vital to brands and can be a source of competitive advantage when they fit culturally, commercially and strategically.”
We couldn’t agree more, and when you do find an agency with that fit, it leads to lasting relationships that will benefit your business. It will also give you all the evidence you need to truly understand why agencies matter.
For further details about Open Comms, who we work with and what we do, please visit: www.opencomms.co.uk or call: 01924 86244.