AMA 2017 session: the hallmarks of successful client/agency relationships

Author: Ash Mann

At this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference I delivered a session with Aoife Breen (ENO’s excellent Digital Engagement Manager) that looked at, amongst other things, how to build and maintain successful relationships with digital agencies and how to identify where your digital problem areas might exist.

The hallmarks of successful client/agency relationships

Research your agency, the cultural sector has some specific requirements and works with sector-specific technology. If the agency you’re working with has never had to deal with any one of the numerous pressure points that working in this sector throws up then you want to be confident that they understand your needs from the outset. I’ve seen a number of relationships go sour simply because the agency didn’t understand that one thing or another (that, to them, seemed insignificant) was in fact a very big deal.

Clarity is key whether that’s around the reason the project exists, or what the project needs to do. Being able to clearly articulate the rationale and the problem you are trying to solve will ensure that any solution is appropriate and has the greatest chance of succeeding.

Be realistic about the resources you can expend on your digital projects. This includes time, money and expertise. Big, complex projects will cost lots of money and require a large amount of your time to successfully deliver. However big, complex projects can often be broken down into smaller, simpler projects that have a far better chance of being delivered (they’ll also be cheaper). Returning to the point about clarity; smaller, more focused projects will enable you to be very clear about the purpose and aims of that particular thing. Nothing is more frustrating than being given a quote for your project that is much more than what you were hoping for but equally nothing is more frustrating for an agency than someone asking for the moon on a stick and only wanting to pay £3.50.

Know what success looks like. Again, returning to the point about clarity. If you know why your project exists and what it’s trying to do then you should have a pretty good idea about what success should look like. Without being able to articulate this then how will you know if it worked or not? Having a shared understanding of what success entails means that everyone should be pulling in the same direction.

Measure and report not just so you can tell whether or not you have been successful but also so you know how your digital activity is performing. Aoife made the point that knowing how all of your digital platforms are performing ‘inside out and upside down’ gives you the best picture on where and how things are being used and therefore how they should be developed (and in what order) as you’ll have a clear idea of how everything hangs together. This also helps you have informed conversations with your agency.

Be as transparent as you can with each other, understanding the widest possible (relevant) context that any conversation exists within is only going to helpful for everyone involved. Knowing why something is really important, or what a deadline is related to, or whose agenda this project is important to is essential as inevitably compromise will be required at one point or another and it is important to know what is immoveable, and why, and where flex can be found.

Trust the people you’re working with. They’re passionate and knowledgable, and if you have a clear idea about what you’re trying to achieve together then great things are possible. Nothing good was ever achieved by people who were suspicious of each other’s motives and couldn’t agree on what they were doing.

However if I were to identify one key factor, I think it all hinges on having a clear, compelling rationale for whatever you’re doing.

I’m going to cover this issue in a separate post as there are a number of tools and techniques that we utilise on projects that I think provide a good foundation for this thinking and helps frame conversations you may have with your colleagues and digital partners.