4 tips for working with an Ad Agency | Viva La Brand

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Unfortunately, many clients have come to Viva La Brand with stories of failed agency relationships. These failed relationships are stressful, cause delays, and hurt businesses’ bottom lines. Here’s how to avoid a bad agency experience.


Tip #1: Have the right people in your organization to manage the agency relationship.

Just because you hire an outside agency doesn’t mean you don’t need strong internal marketing talent.

The most effective use of your internal resources is for strategic planning, project management, and consulting with internal clients. Rely on external resources to handle production and execution needs such as graphic design, photography, videography, and fulfillment.

For many businesses, about one-third of your non-media marketing spend should be devoted internally and about two-thirds to external partners. Why? You need a lot of marketing resources to execute your internal team’s plans.

What does this all mean for you? When you hire internal marketing professionals, look for candidates with experience managing an outside agency. Effective marketing managers challenge what they see and hear from their external partners.

If you don’t have a strong, experienced manager on your side, the agency will typically fill the role. That means you could lose connection to your strategy, business objectives, and priorities. It’s a slippery slope that often leads to higher cost and lower output.


Tip #2: Start with a detailed Scope of Work (SOW).

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You and the agency need to be in sync regarding your needs and expectations. The agency’s deliverables should ladder up to your business objectives. There should be a direct relationship between their output and your goals. This is not the place to include “nice to haves”. They’re too costly and distract from your business goals.

When clients come to us after a failed relationship, one of our first requests is to see the scope of work. All too often there isn’t one or it’s broad and lacks key milestones, due dates, and champions for each step in the process.

A client recently engaged Viva La Brand to conduct a digital agency search. After a thorough search process, we selected an agency. The first draft of the SOW created by the agency was silent when it came to rounds of revisions and ownership of the creative output. We worked with the agency to state a reasonable number of rounds of revisions and to clarify that our client owned creative work developed on their behalf. These may sound like minor points. If left up to interpretation they can cost you a lot of money and sleepless nights.

The best SOWs are developed together between your team and the agency. It’s key that your team includes sales. In highly effective organizations, marketing and sales are joined at the hip.

The best SOWs are specific. And, they are referred to regularly throughout the course of the engagement.


Tip #3: Be willing to take risks.

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You’re hiring an agency because you’ve identified skills you don’t have internally you need to achieve your business goals.

Let your agency push you. If you properly vetted your agency, then trust them to help you take bigger brand steps. Taking a risk may offer the chance to set your brand apart from competition. It can change the perception of your brand or speak to a new audience.


And before you hire an agency…

Tip #4: Meet your agency team before picking a partner.

Agency pitches are often run by the president and business development leader, individuals you often won’t work with after you select the agency. Make sure during the search process that you interact with the account manager and creative team that will work on your account day-to-day.

Ask agencies you’re vetting:

  1. What is the tenure of your clients? You want to work with an agency that has a strong record of success. One sign of an effective agency is clients that stick.

  2. What is the tenure of your employees? What’s your rating on Glassdoor?Happy employees mean less turnover. It’s desirable to engage in a partnership that is sustainable.

  3. What makes your agency different from others? Why should we work with you rather than another agency? What’s important to you as a business? Results? Mission? Ensure the agency’s differentiator is important to your business. Several years ago a Viva La Brand client hired a PR agency because the president of the company really liked the president of the agency. Three months later we were hired to conduct a PR agency search to find a new PR partner for the company. Hire what you need for your business to soar, not who you want to have wine with in NYC.

  4. What if our needs change in the middle of a plan or project? They will. Your agency should be agile and ready to change gears as needed. Keep in mind that your agency is a business too and changes in the scope of work may come at a cost to you.

  5. What if we don’t like or agree with the work developed? No problem. Agencies don’t always hit the mark every time. SOWs usually state the number of revisions per round of creative. This needs to be understood and agreed upon before work begins.

  6. What if our team doesn’t get along with an agency account manager?We’ve helped many clients in this situation. The solution is clear, direct feedback to the head account manager or the owner of the agency. It’s not unusual for an agency to switch players when personalities don’t mesh. The faster you identify and communicate the problem, the better.

  7. What’s your agency’s policy regarding project versus retainer compensation? We urge clients to be wary of agencies that require you to sign a 12-month commitment or agree to a monthly retainer before doing any work together. Pick the most pressing, high impact project, and agree to an SOW and fee. Work together and then decide if a retainer is in your best interest. Date before you get married!


Need help finding and keeping the right
ad/digital/PR agency partner?  

Let’s talk! [email protected]


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