Originally featured by CMO.com on 18 January 2017.

The outcome of a good pitch process is supposed to be the start of a strong working relationship, where the client finds the right agency to deliver what they need. But when almost three-quarters of clients and agencies agree that they both set unrealistic expectations during pitching, we’re clearly a long way from that ideal.

Indeed, our 2016 AAR Senior Client and Agency Leaders Research found that two-thirds of clients were disappointed with their agency in the first six months. There’s one simple step you can take to avoid that—start thinking about how you’re going to work with your next agency before the pitches start.

It’s easy to assume that agencies know how to handle taking on a new client—after all, they do it all the time. But every client is different, with different needs, structures, expectations, and ways of working, and, at the start, the agency will only know what you tell them or what they’ve assumed. Of course, they’ll learn, but that takes time, time you’d rather they were spending producing great work. So to speed things up, our advice is don’t wait until after you’ve appointed your agency to start thinking about people, processes, and ways of working—do it now.

Ten Things To Do Now
1. Put someone in charge of the transition. They will manage the migration to the new agency, plan and manage the induction process, agree phasing, and help the agency build effective relationships. This is not a junior task—they need to understand your brand and business: the people, the processes, and the shortcuts. It’s also important to recognise this will probably be their main job for the transition period, so find someone to take on part of their workload. And don’t underestimate how long the transition can take. A recent client of ours appointed a transition manager for four weeks—four months later they were still in-post.

2. Talk to your team about the scope of work and expectations. A new agency is a real opportunity for a new start, but only if you are internally aligned about what, when, and how. As the senior lead, you can’t be in every single meeting and sign off every single brief, so it’s critical you set the agenda now, and understand your team’s concerns, and address their questions. You may also be looking to implement a new approach, or there might just be tweaks that you want to make to your processes. Ask your day-to-day team what wasn’t working before, and how they think things could be improved.

3. Define how you’re going to work with your new agency. Establish not just how you want to approach briefings, sign-offs, and reviews, but also the kind of behaviour you expect both from the agency and your own people. Decide how you’re going to handle any niggles or issues that arise. You should also define the checks needed to assess the progress of the transition and share them as part of the pitch process.

4. Make sure your induction plan is specific enough. It should cover who the agency needs to meet and in what order, to speed up their learning. It should also set out the agreed scope of work and any phasing needed to prevent them being swamped in the early stages. Outline your expectations for the transition period, and establish early-stage metrics. And have a briefing pack ready for when the agency is appointed, covering the background and context of your business—and your other agencies—in as much detail as you can.

5. Define a draft framework for KPIs and SLAs. These should reflect your scope of expectations and, therefore, what working processes need to be in place to be road-tested during the first three months. Have these agreed internally, so everyone has the same expectations, no one’s making assumptions, and you can track what needs refining (or re-engineering if early niggles threaten to cause fundamental cracks).

6. Ensure clear and regular internal communications. It can still take a long time from here to appoint a new agency, so everyone—the marketing team, stakeholders, and your other agencies—needs to be kept informed.

7. Consider your plan to announce the new appointment. This should include both internal and external communications. Who needs a phone call, an e-mail, or a press release, and in what order should they be contacted?

8. Prepare your team for the impact of your new agency on the rest of your roster. You may decide to change working practices for all your agencies. Equally, you might find that your new agency’s approach and the questions they ask show up deficiencies in the work of some of your other agencies. In a recent annual review we delivered for one of our clients, the arrival of a new agency with a new approach meant a much-loved planner from another agency went from hero to zero in a matter of weeks.

9. Continue to manage your other agencies well. Your attention may be stretched, but it’s essential to ensure your roster continues to deliver. This also includes the agency you’re replacing. You need them to carry on until the newcomer takes over, and you should also agree the process and approximate timings for the handover. Ensure all actions and decisions are confirmed in writing and shared within your team for clarity.

10. Finally, if the pitch is to replace an incumbent agency, talk to them candidly about the real learnings looking back and their advice for the new agency. There may be a nugget here that can really make a difference and add some useful questions for the pitch itself.

This may seem like a lot of prep, but the result should be that your new agency has a clear understanding both of what you want and how you want to work, as should your team and your wider stakeholder community. And that will mean fewer problems and less troubleshooting later on.

This is the second article in a series of three. Last time looked at how to prepare your stakeholders for the perfect pitch. Next time we’ll look some things to think about after you’ve appointed your new agency.

About The Author

Kerry Glazer

CEO

Kerry’s communications industry career spans 27 years and she is one of the industry’s most prominent figures. 

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