During my agency management course this quarter, students have been studying a large range of agencies–big and small. We visited several firms, and students analyzed structures and cultures of 20 PR and ad agencies. But one of the highlights had to be the opportunity to hear first hand how a particularly effectively client/agency relationship really works.
For years, I’ve been impressed with the close working relationship enjoyed by MillerCoors and its PR agency, Olson Communications (formerly Dig Communications). So, MillerCoors Public Affairs head Nehl Horton and Communications VP Pete Marino hosted my class recently for a discussion about what makes a great agency/client relationship. Speaking to the students who were enjoying some of MillerCoors’ great craft beers, Nehl said agency staff were embedded into every facet of the nation’s number two brewer. Agency staff operated as an extension of the company’s in-house PR team. (Nehl and the company were so impressed with Olson PR head Marino over the years that they eventually talked him into heading the PR function. Pete joined MillerCoors in July).
In order to maximize the value of client/agency collaboration, Pete and Nehl shared the following 12 tips:
Pete’s “6-pack” of tips for agencies:
1. Understand Your Client’s Business
–Go the extra mile. Learn their business on your own time. How do they make money? Who are their key consumers? Who are their key customers?
2. Connect the Dots
–For example, beer is a lifestyle brand. Pay attention to pop culture…sports, music, etc. and bring articles from outside into your client with an idea about how to get involved or extend it.
3. Be available 24-7
–Agency jobs aren’t 9-to-5. Business has no clock. If there is something going on, you better be available.
4. Stay a Step Ahead
–Clients are busy people and they typically run from one meeting to the next. Don’t seek to just answer a question. Be prepared to have thought through what could be next and always try to stay a step ahead of your clients.
5. Be Bold
–Differentiate yourself with ideas that are big and may be uncomfortable at times. Clients want to be pushed with great thinking. Give it to them every time you can.
6. Get up the food chain
–Try to get exposure to the C-suite as much as possible. Get them to understand the value you are bringing.
Nehl’s “6-pack of tips” for clients:
1. Know Who You Are Hiring
–Thoroughly review the agencies pitching on your business. Ask existing and former clients for feedback. Strike up a relationship with the principals and set a clear expectation about their personal involvement in your business.
2. Make Them Part of the Family
–Bring agency leadership and staff into your world. Educate them about your business. Treat them like part of your team. Be comfortable with the agency talking to folks at all levels of the organization even without your involvement.
3. Don’t Duplicate Internal Capabilities
–Agencies should make a unique contribution that is differentiated from the contributions of internal staff. Hire for what you don’t have vs. to augment what you do.
4. Deliver a Clear Brief
–Give the agency the freedom of a well-written brief with clear objectives.
5. Don’t Kill Ideas in the Cradle
–You hired the agency to bring you ideas, don’t stifle them at birth just because they look scary or weren’t your brainchild. Let the agency make you uncomfortable and push you to take risks.
6. Expect More
–Push the agency to provide service beyond the expected. Encourage them to take a broad view of the relationship and to act beyond today’s deliverables.