5 Keys to A Successful In-house/Agency Partnership

As more and more brands take their advertising in-house, the need for trusted external partners has never been greater. Increasingly, marketers are seeking partners who can plug the holes and deliver on-demand expertise in areas your internal organization might lack or not justify the large investment. 

It means you’re now on the lookout for complementary skills and specialized partners that can help you make the leaps forward in progress. In-and-out like a special-ops team. They could be strategy setters, data miners, content creators and everything in between, but what matters is that you’re developing fundamentally different ways of working.  

Having worked at Coca Cola and other in-house agencies as well as at some of the biggest ad agencies, I’ve observed the real struggles of making these relationships work. Here are some time-tested tips on how to build a successful in-house/agency partnership:

A Problem Well Defined is a Problem Half Solved

Understand the problem you are trying to solve first. As you bring in an outside partner, make sure that your stakeholders internally are aligned on the specific challenge you are trying to address. The sharper the challenge, the better the brief. The better the brief, the better the result. Less time wasted and more progress made.

Take time up-front to put in place the right problem-definition process. When leveraging the expertise of outside partners, some can help build a problem/definition process while others can execute against it. 

Back Your Team, Build a Culture

Create a culture of success and creativity internally. Without retained support from agencies, it becomes vital that your team has the capabilities and belief to get it done. Your team will have to be the engine room, keeping the momentum up on projects and playing the role of ensuring the creative and strategic vision stays on point. This should be seen as an exciting prospect; they have the opportunity to be proper marketeers. 

The role is no longer to approve agency work, it’s to improve and create it. Working hand in glove with partners and getting into the weeds with them. It’s an opportunity to build a team of motivated and ambitious people who don’t want to sit on the sidelines but instead are hungry to make things happen.

Process, Process, Process

As the one driving the process, it is incumbent on you to steer the agency partner to a successful outcome. You must clearly define the scope, the expectations, the timeline and more. Establish clear swim lanes that define what you are doing inside, and what specific tasks you expect from your agency. Importantly you have to demonstrate how it will work together. 

Both sides are working at an accelerated pace to meet increased demands, so what is the structure that enables you to move at the speed you need to, and make sure your partners can keep up?

Think Collaboration Not Competition

Your agency is not your competition. There’s no benefit in doubling up work and seeing what comes out on top. We all come to problem-solving with a mindset from childhood that we have to win at all costs. But that doesn’t work today. Agencies need to find opportunities where they can help and make a difference. And your in-house teams need to open the door to fresh thinking when they need it. 

Most agencies today know that they are there to supplement the in-house team. They are a resource that can provide inspiration. Critical to their success is a relationship that is built on trust between both parties. Client organizations tapping into agencies on a project basis can create the best outcomes when they understand both their own brand needs, and those of the agency trying to help them. 

Your agency needs a critical point person empowered to make decisions. How can you work in a streamlined fashion so that there is only one head chef in the kitchen?  

Lastly, it’s still all about relationships.  It’s important for your agency and your external agency to work together, have a relationship and dare I say, like each other.  The more they have a relationship, the more you’ll have one team.  

The Customer Still Has to Come First

To be successful, you must have a consumer-first mindset. Agencies might have provided the voice of the consumer before, but now your teams are the custodians of the insights.

As you move projects forward, always consider how you are addressing the consumer’s pain points, their needs, and their wants.

Outside partners are a brilliant resource to gut-check ideas and insight, use them. Just think of some of the big brand mistakes that have gotten headlines in the past couple of years because internal agencies did not get an outside perspective. 

Lee Roth

Lee Roth is North American Director of BeenThereDoneThat, a brand consultancy that leverages a global community of over 200 of the world’s best marketing experts across 25 countries to provide leading global marketers with fast-turnaround strategic and creative thinking. BeenThereDoneThat is a brand consultancy that leverages a global community of over 200 of the world’s best marketing experts across 25 countries to provide leading global marketers with fast-turnaround strategic and creative thinking.