When I worked for a brand, I always found it odd that we used agencies for some of the most interesting projects. ‘Certainly, that’s why we have internal teams’, I thought. After being on both sides, it became clear brands need agencies for organisational, creative and perspective reasons. As an agency or consultant, it’s valuable to understand these to add greater value and become an indispensable mentor to brands.
Before diving into this discussion, please note that brands do differ in terms of management, decision-making and capabilities. Some are super agile with change and others are not. This all depends on three things: how new a company is; what needs to be taken down before another process is established; and how stakeholders interact with each other. We are dealing with humans after all.
With that said, I’ve discovered that most brands can be painfully slow, but panicked at the same time. This is because a much needed project around starting a social marketing campaign, as an example, is required immediately but took months to agree upon. This is usually where an agency comes in. Agencies need to act quickly, but also seem methodical to take stakeholders along on the journey. When working with an agency, a brand should feel like they are on a breezy joy-ride toward their desired destination.
These are the ten most common reasons (I saw) an agency come into the picture:
- No team
- No process
- No experience
- Tight timelines
- Specialty project
- New perspective required
- Change in management
- Multiple teams involved
- Lack of cross-function communication
- Decrease in performance
As an agency or consultant, this can be valuable to know. When working with brands, most of my job requires repeating information. This can be process, previously agreed upon points or future deliverables. Repetition helps to create clarity and comfort, as many times the project can be complex or there is a lot depending on its success. Agency-side, I used to be frustrated with brands when they did not understand simple principles of the project. But I then realised - we were hired for our expertise and I can add value through education in addition to finishing deliverables on-time.
It’s also helpful to recognise that many times an agency is used as a reason to get different functions to actually talk. Shocker I know. As someone who worked at a corporate brand, I understand how difficult it is to get out of your silos. To be honest, many times this type of behaviour is neither rewarded nor the norm, which demotivates people to do it in the first place. The joy and difficult of being in an agency is helping teams talk to each other.
The tricky spot for both a brand and third party is when the specialty exists in-house, but the agency is doing their creative work. Don’t get me wrong, I would much rather brands trust their internal teams to do cool projects. But there are cases, company norms and/or time that keeps teams boxed in. I’ve been there and know it’s hard to break through. As an agency, this is something to be aware of and get those teams on your side by asking for their advice or knowledge.
As an agency, many times your job is assessing and tailoring your approach to a specific situation. Little knowledge? New management? Falling revenue? This will all affect the focus and education required around certain areas. As a creative strategist, I’ve had to do other tasks like brand strategy because it was needed to move my work forward. Brand strategy is all about clarity and alignment. Even though this wasn’t a formal requirement, I know it is necessary for my work to be viewed as successful later on.
Brands working together with an agency, consultant or third party is a partnership. It requires trust, understanding and patience. Some of the people involved have worked in both an agency and brand, and others have not. But by understanding or even acknowledging each other’s situation and expertise, we can better help each other to complete complex and much needed projects on-time and beyond expectation.