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How to get great work from your agency

How can clients motivate agency management to attract the best talent to their business? What can clients do to motivate agency employees, making them the client everyone wants to work on? Or to motivate agencies to present outstanding creative work?

How to

The answers to all three questions are rooted in the need for a client–agency relationship that is based on true partnership. This requires trust, honesty, respect, decency and gratitude – on both sides – as well as fair rewards and incentives. It's a contract, and both parties have responsibilities.

The idea that you get as good as you give was never truer than in this context. 'Give' is many things, not just money.

For example, how much are you giving with your brief? It can also mean scope, vision, freedom to think/create, passion for innovation, a senior, confident team – engaged and brave enough not to take the safe route ... and appropriate remuneration.

The client may hold most of the cards, the budget and the ultimate recourse of hiring and firing – but if procurement exploits the latter over the need for the former (partnership), then slowly but surely the relationship will become thin, inconsequential and short-term.

This is the worst possible environment for new, challenging, creative, innovative work to flourish. One outcome is that a whole new generation of marketing management may never have experienced what it takes to give brilliant work the chance to prosper.

Superlative creative work is the lifeblood of our industry – not only does it make the difference between a great campaign and a mediocre one, but it is the main motivation for creatives to want to work on particular accounts. So my challenge to clients is this: “Does your team or corporate culture enable great thinking to flourish?”

Depending on the customer, 'great work' can mean visually impactful and memorable, brand enhancing; innovative; effective at driving an outcome – for example behaviour change, sales etc – delivered on time to budget; gets buy in from internal global stakeholders; liked/accepted by most in market research; divides opinion in market research and creates a strong reaction; great work as judged by marketer opinion; great work judged by doctor opinion … but you can't have all of the above at any one time.

Be explicit in what 'great work' you want and you'll reap the benefits from your agency.

Recognition and reward – another key theme
Creatives have egos. They don't join agencies to be wallflowers: they want to be recognised. Great creatives want to be awardwinning.

Help them enter creative and effectiveness awards. After all, 'we sell or else ...' fosters loyalty to you and your brand. But bear in mind that the best agency talent is the most expensive, salaries are highest – you really do get what you pay for. Remember that safe is not the home of great creative talent. Most clients get the work they deserve – whichever the agency.

Clearly not every client offers ground-breaking products, but motivating agencies is as much about how as what.

The most motivated agency teams are those who are most respected by their clients and treated as if they were actually part of the client's own team. Clients can motivate by direct communication; if senior clients are spending time (their own currency) with the agency, then the agency will respond well (for a client they like working with). Shared goals are also key – not only financial, but tangible and socially apparent ones.

Yes, senior client involvement means time and that's expensive but involvement up front, particularly during the planning, ideas and concepts stage, really is the most valuable and can repay the investment in quality of the finished work.

The alternative – to hand over responsibility to junior talent – can mean weak decisions through inexperience, risk aversion, fear of giving agencies freedom to think and create, task orientation, all things that suffocate creativity. The more inexperienced the team, the more reason for senior client engagement from the beginning.

Fostering creativity presents its own unique challenges
Great work happens when the agency is well briefed by a confident client. The best clients understand that great work is usually hard to buy … if the work is too comfortable it probably isn't great! Decision by market research doesn't lead to great work, it leads to safe work. When agencies get a good, clear brief with ample time to get to inspired ideas, clients get the best work and the ability to do great work attracts the best talent.

The best tools for motivation are a clear brief, a fair assessment of the work and clear feedback. Convoluted approval processes are the death of great creative and deeply demotivating to the rest of the team. Present the agency with a clear objective/business challenge and communicate that business challenge in a succinct, creative brief. Then, allow the agency enough time and resources to do its job.

Make the creative a priority and keep the creative up front throughout the process. Develop a process/fund that allows for risk taking. By being able to explore ideas in a penalty-free zone, the agency can apply the insights and lessons learned to more traditional work.

Innovate on the fringe. Some clients will set aside a small budget to do award-winning work. This work may not be part of the main campaign but enough flexibility to push for out of the box thinking. Be brave. Create an atmosphere of trust. Instil the belief that 'no idea is wrong'.

When it comes to the creative product, the motivation must be part of the DNA of the team working on the business. All the client can 'do' is to provide clear assignment briefs, thoroughly read and understand the importance of the creative brief from the agency as the blueprint of the work that follows from it, and provide incisive and strategic feedback. Comments such as “I don't like that colour” or “I'll know it when I see it” suggest clients are ill-trained to review creative competently and need guidance and understanding in how to judge what is 'good' creative. What the agency must do is establish a high and unwavering bar of excellence for quality that all work must pass, manage timeframes from the client, and insert creative aggressively into all kick-off and feedback sessions that impact the creative product.

When it comes to motivating agency employees and being the client everyone wants to work with, some simple rules apply.

Firstly, don't over complicate. Tight partnership, involving senior clients early, clear, objective direction and a streamlined process are, generally, all the motivation that is needed.

Secondly, all clients say they want great work, but this is defined differently by every client. Clients who treat their agency well and show respect at all levels will always get better work than ones who thump the table.

Make the agency teams feel as if they are truly part of the client's team – honesty, open communications, shared praise and constructive criticism are key to this. Consider getting the agency team to go the extra mile – having a stake in the business, for example, a risk/reward compensation scheme that helps the agency share in the accountability for the brand.

Thirdly, respect the brief and the deadlines, don't change them once agreed to. Ignoring these simple rules results in team attrition, leading to poor deliverables and client frustration, further exacerbating the problem – in short, creating a vicious cycle.

Fourthly, recognise and reward good ideas. Agency people are more wired around service to the client and gain enormous satisfaction from recognition by the client for their efforts. As long as clients provide frequent and thorough feedback, they can direct their work towards a successful result and diminish uncertainty for them. Client recognition of individual and team contributions is one of the most effective methods of building enthusiasm and maintaining loyalty to the project.

The best clients to work for are the ones that treat you as a partner and buy good work. Nothing gets people wanting to work on your business more than seeing the results of the great work they are doing. This is not necessarily award-winning; it's about being seen to be willing to have a go, learn from it and move on.

Treating an agency as a true partner, by maintaining transparency, communicating clearly and giving the agency insight into the business, will foster shared accountability and lead to a more successful relationship. Working together to create an environment where people feel creatively challenged and valued, sharing commitments and measurement and where fewer, more senior, clients work with the agency results in better work, better collaboration and less frustrated, happier agency teams.

The Author
Gloria Gibbons
is president, EMEA, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide & WPP Global Client Leader, a member of the EACA Health Communications Council

29th November 2012

From: Marketing


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