Collaboration In Adland Is No Longer An Option (It's A Must)

By: Mike Le

In the agency world, we often find ourselves working with other agencies on major client accounts, each handling a piece of the work. It is more and more common that we’ll see a brand agency, creative agency, advertising agency, and a digital agency all in the same room discussing a project. In some cases, there’s a master agency coordinating the other agencies. In other cases, the client is the central point of contact without an agency taking the lead. 

Collaboration in Adland

And while this shift toward a more collaborative approach is increasingly what is required today, that doesn’t make it easy. Let’s face it, partnerships can be tricky. Although all agencies want to finish the project successfully, there are many things that can go wrong. Sometimes, the client can’t elaborate their business goals. One or several agencies may underperform. Some agencies may create works that conflict with other agencies. Or the lead agency may not be able to coordinate effectively with the other agencies regarding expertise that is not their strength. 

When the project goes south, the pains begin. Because each agency only knows a part of the picture, most of them cannot fix the problem. The client is never wrong, so someone else should take the ball. Since no one wants to take responsibility for mistakes, people may start pointing fingers. 

So how can we avoid this kind of outcome? How can we, as an agency in a big group, help drive the whole project to success? And how can we shield ourselves from the blame game? Here are a few helpful ways: 

  • Clarify the roles and responsibility of each party involved early. Clarify what you will do and will not do. Clarify what you need and how you will support and interact with other agencies in the project. The more clarity you have in advance, the less arguments and "discussions" you have to deal with later.
  • Gather information about other agencies' work, even when it’s outside of your scope.This information will be very helpful when things go wrong. Ask questions about other agencies' work, and join conversations and meetings with other agencies when you can. Follow all the moving parts of the project and see the big picture. 

That may take some extra time, but the reward is many times greater. When something happens, you may be the only partner that has enough information to solve the problem for the entire group, which will enhance your reputation and your client relationship. 

  • Write everything down, via meeting minutes, reports or simply emails. In complex projects with many moving parts and many agencies involved, it can be hard to keep track of who said what and who did what, and opinions and directions can change frequently. Having clear written notes to refer to when needed is very helpful to explain why something happened and who is responsible for what. It can save people from pointless blame games. 
  • Foresee potential problems and communicate in advance.  When you’re seasoned in your line of work, you know a lot of possible problems that can take a project off course. By communicating potential risks in advance, you make everyone aware of the issues and reduce the chances that a problem could happen. 
  • Take the lead role when appropriate. If no agency is taking the role as lead agency, act like one. Step up and coordinate everybody, even when you are not asked to do so. 

It takes courage to take in more responsibility, but it brings you tremendous influence and solid positioning in the client’s mind. You’ll have more power and information to foster communication and drive the project in the right direction. 

You can take the lead no matter what role your agency has in the project, as long as you show respect and the willingness to pursue the common goal. By stepping forward, you make everybody's work easier, and people will appreciate that.

This article was first published on MediaPost

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