Running an agency is a tough business. You’re constantly balancing new business development, creativity, employee management, legal concerns, invoices, new tools… the list goes on and on.

With so many responsibilities, how do you know what to prioritize? Wouldn’t it be nice to know what your clients think you should focus on?

We rounded up some pieces of advice from a few marketing executives and CMOs to help you handle the many varied demands of running an agency.

7 Pieces of Agency Advice from Marketing Executives

1) Focus on building a partnership with your clients

The advice is, for marketers, you only get what you put in. If you kick it over the fence, expect it to be kicked back. Okay? If you lean in and you say, ‘Hey, agency. This truly is a partnership.’ In that, we’ll get the best solution and the agency gets the best partnership because there’s a transparency in our business.

Part of what happens early on in our agency relationships is everyone is taking a guess. The tension tends to come as reality starts affecting that guess.

When you’re trying to sell in on the agency side, you’ll always err towards the side of, ‘Oh, it will be fine.’ On the client side, you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t understand what those fees are,’ and yet there’s no working in between. That would be the big thing, to lean in.

David Jaye | CMO of The Weather Company

2) Get your executive team involved from day one

Think about some of the great marketing of our age. Apple’s a perfect example. It wasn’t a partnership between Lee Clow and Apple’s CMO. It was Steve Jobs and Lee together creating great work.

I think that is a formula at the top, a creative partner and the CEO working together. If those two people can work together, it’s magic.

Brian Chesky | CEO of Airbnb

3) Highlight your specialties

There is too much focus on sales and cross-selling, and not enough on unique capabilities.

Never hire your PR agency to do your paid search and find agencies that truly specialize in one core service to deliver the best results.

Ed Nevraumont | CMO of A Place for Mom

4) Empathise with client’s drive for revenue

One big thing that the agency side doesn’t understand is the ever present need to drive revenue and to make sure that I’m managing the spend against that.

Things can get away from you very quickly if you have a slow Q1 — you’re not going to make your annual revenues. Just that shift and thinking away from the quality of the program, if you will, to the responsibility for the revenue and investment for the enterprise. That was probably the biggest shift I had to make.

Ellen Donahue-Dalton | CMO of Medecision

5) Don’t wait for a crisis to build strong relationships

Should a crisis or high-profile communication occur in your organization, you need to already have strong relationships across your executive team.

Build the rapport now so that you’re not waiting until crisis hits to build those relationships and protocols.

Amy Comeau | CMO of Emory Healthcare

6) Don’t underestimate the value of speed

I need agencies who are very fast — that’s point number one, especially in a startup. I will actually sacrifice some strategy for speed.

I needed an agency that would be fast, that would be nimble and also that wasn’t going to lock me into a big retainer. That’s a real mistake that companies make, especially small companies. You just can’t afford monthly hits of $10,000 or more.

You may not use the agency in a given month because you have other priorities, and then you’re still paying the $10,000, and there’s always exit fees. It ends up getting very expensive.

Jeff Perkins | CMO of QASymphony

7) Play well with others

I love the agencies that play well with others. I love putting agencies together.

I think that’s one of the most powerful things we can do. I know that’s not always easy. Who’s on first? Who’s on second? Can be tricky. When that dance is well danced, I think it’s beautiful.

I love agencies who truly understand they fill a void. Yet are able to rise up out of that specialty and connect other dots for us. I think that’s a very, very powerful capability from an agency.

Rebecca Messina | Global CMO of Beam Suntory


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