How to Hold Your Agency Accountable

Chad Kearns, Vice President of Marketing Services

Here’s to the marketers on the brand side; your marketing objectives, high hopes for the upcoming year, and budgets keep our agency world spinning.

You’d think that your contract and monthly recurring revenue would keep your agency accountable on its own. The RFP process you went through with your agency was extensive, and you were sold on the seamless, never-siloed service-suite that perfectly matched your needs executed by a team of experts with 300-something years of combined experience. The agency even had case studies that proved extensive experience in the work scoped! What could go wrong?

But six months into your work together, your expectations and the reality of it don’t align. Deadlines slip, the work that comes in misses the mark, communication stifles, and results disappoint.

While agencies are shouldered with the blame in this relationship dynamic, and while they often deserve it, the marketers who hire them also play a role in contributing to the downfall of a brand-agency relationship. At its core, this really comes down to the client setting expectations as clearly as possible. You may not have all the answers or the perfect vision, and that’s OK. After all, you hired an agency for a reason. But the closer you can get towards articulating that desired outcome, the better.

For marketers on the brand side, approach your next agency engagement with these fundamentals in mind to help create expectations to hold your agency more accountable. The more detailed you can get here, the more often your expectations will be met or even exceeded.

Demand a Detailed Scope of Work

This is the very start of clarifying your expectations. This is often the only place where detailed work expectations actually get written down. Don’t miss the chance to get your expectations included in a signed and agreed upon document.

Demand objectives, milestones, delivery dates, ownership rights, iteration rounds, and budgets detailed and clarified. It can be time-intensive, but it will save you a ton of extra work and stress down the road.

If there are lingering “what ifs?” or “what abouts?” negotiate, come to an agreement, and get them in the SOW before it’s signed.

For both you and the agency providing their services, gray areas create potential points of conflict and common places where expectations are missed.

Maintain Meaningful Engagement Objectives

I’ve covered in my previous post how to do this effectively. And if you’re able to successfully commit to and refine your desired outcomes to keep them top of mind for you and your agency over the course of your work together, this is a great way to create accountability.

Your objectives should be agreed upon by you and your agency. If you hold up your end of the bargain (we’ll get to that below) and your objectives are relevant, realistic, and measurable, you’ll be in great shape here.

Accountability is more-easily directed if both parties agreed to the desired outcome.

Share a Project Management System

Create a centralized source of truth that holds everything related to your engagement.

There’s only a bajillion project management tools on the market. Find one that works for you and the agency you’re working with. The odds are that you and your selected agency will already have a preferred PM setup. And, the odds are that they will not be the same platform. As the client, you’ll usually win out on what to use since, well, you pay the bills. The particular tool doesn’t matter. 97% of the leading tools on the market are the same; the remaining 3% doesn’t usually make a difference, but each tool needs a unique value prop.

Either way, have a shared space where everything lives. Your shared PM system should hold:

  • Active SOWs
  • Engagement objectives
  • Strategic roadmaps
  • Active task lists with accurate due dates
  • Completed deliverables
  • Performance reports
  • Meeting notes

The key to all of this: your shared system is only effective if used and kept up to date.

When utilized well, establishing a singular source of truth is one of the easiest ways to create points of accountability. It keeps all of your receipts as well, for when expectations are missed by your agency. Timestamped expectations are an easy thing to point to when something doesn’t meet the mark.

Be careful, though. If you set up something like this and it is not used well, the perceived source of truth will be outdated, and that can be more difficult to work with than nothing at all.

Hold Yourself Accountable

One of the best ways to hold your agency accountable is to hold yourself accountable for the work required on your end.

I won’t sit here and defend agencies to death; there is plenty of blame that rightfully goes to the agency when expectations aren’t met and they can’t hold themselves accountable. But successful brand-agency relationships require cooperation and engagement from both ends of the table.

This is magnified if the work you’re engaged in is consultative, or recommendation-based in nature. If you find yourself pulling away from an active engagement or unable to follow through on your commitments, it can throw the entire relationship off.

Agency strategists are people too! They are motivated by working with engaged clients and seeing their work come to fruition. The more often you can follow through, the more engaged your agency team will be.

Should it work that way? Probably not.

Does it work that way? Absolutely.

Other posts in this series:

Building Great Brand-Agency Relationships
How to Set and Maintain Meaningful Marketing Goals
How to Hold Your Client Accountable

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