Agencies as partners; well yes, but whom do I trust?
Ideally, the relationship between the brand team and your agency should spring from a strong partnership – one that enables a collective deep dive into your business and category needs and challenges. Your agency’s contribution to the cause: bring fresh, independent thinking and broad experience to help you map the best path forward.
In keeping with the partner role, the agency should come equipped with knowledge and understanding of the consumer you wish to build a relationship with. In theory, this is what communications firms do – create and implement recipes for successful conversations. You would be hard pressed to make that recipe work if you don’t have a deep understanding of the aspiration, interests and passions of those you wish to reach.
Agencies are creative communications think tanks – specialists who know how to work backwards from consumer insight to messages that are relevant and engaging. Twenty years ago that might have fallen out of cinematic production values and attempts at persuasion based on catchy tunes, tethered to entertaining product benefit stories.
Alas, the world has changed and consumers look for help over hype. So now what? If not a stellar reel of short form Hollywood moviemaking, the grist for success has a different face. And you know what it is – it’s trust creation.
We ask how can a brand marketer be assured their agency pick is the right one for partnership? How can you peer into the future and know this is going to work to the greatest effect?
It is fundamentally a matter of trust. This is no different than the end game of outreach to consumers. Trust looms large as a precursor to any kind of good, productive relationship. Hopefully, when you got married you moved from a place of trust to one of life’s most important personal relationships. Did you make an analytical list of pros and cons as a decision tree on your potential spouse selection? No, it was based on how you felt.
Is trust just an emotional state? Is this the luck of the draw? At the human level we know we respond differently to different kinds of people. Yes, some of it is basic chemistry, but I would venture to say that common ground often sparks the process.
Call it alignment, similar thinking, compatible points of view, shared understanding and super important: mutual respect between the business and agency teams. You might start with relevant experience as a starter and go from there. Like-mindedness sets the stage for good working conditions. A strong agency sees its role as helpful, insightful guide, not order taker. Also, arrogance has no place at the table of a partner relationship.
Trust and belief matter here. This is not as transactional condition. It can’t be.
It’s fair to ask what’s the opposite of trusted partner? Probably something that gets closer to vendor. A supplier relationship based on ‘shipping’ commodity solutions at lower prices. If successful communication was simply flipping a switch on and off, then this might work out. However, getting to victory requires better strategy, deeper insights, and more investment to peel the onion of consumer needs and how to craft a mutually beneficial relationship with them.
When considering an agency partner, begin with conversations in settings that allow for more than a fact-based exchange of capability information. Explore the business challenges, get to know one another, look for common ground and perspectives about where the business is headed and how to get there.
When trust exists, you’ll know it. You knew it when you got married (hopefully). You also know when it’s missing – and there’s your decision.
By the way, partner-style relationships can exist when clients open the door to create an immersive exposure to the business. The goal: fully understand the company and how it functions. Nothing drives great work more than insight to all facets of how the business is operating. It feeds creative thinking and strategic, more powerful and transformational solutions. Of course, to make that work you need – wait for it – trust.
Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.