Marketing Planet

What it takes to work successfully with an agency

Working with an external agency

More and more companies tend to work with external agencies. Though the consulting "boom" seems to take more normal proportions, many companies still believe they will find the miracle from the agency they will work with. Unfortunately sometimes this appears very disapointing. The error is due to both sides. The company expects too much from the agency and the agency is not always as honest in the possibilities.

There is indeed a variety of reasons why a company can choose to externalise a mission. It can be for a market survey, a communication campaign, a product development, an IT development or any other mission. If the company doesn’t have the expertise or the time, or if it is simply looking for a new viewpoint, they may contact an agency for help. Working with an agency may indeed reply to their needs in condition that some points are taken into account.

The reasons for the agency for working with you:

The aim of your agency is not always simply to best reply to your needs. Let’s be honest. From the agencies point of view your company might be interesting for various reasons:

  • Working with you means money, nothing less and nothing more. This can clearly mean that the mission itself doesn’t inspire him.
  • Your company can represent a new universe for him, one he has not yet managed to enter.
  • Your company focuses on a problem that he is specialised in. Depending on the agency, this can mean indeed that you will obtain an expertise, or on the other hand that you will have the same as the agencies other clients (thus lack of originality).
  • Once the agency has managed to obtain a first mission, he counts on further missions within your company.
  • According to your company and the type of agency there are many more reasons to imagine. Understand however, this is business and there is nothing for free.

This shows that is important to understand not only why you want to work with an agency but also understand what will be the underlying reasons for the agency to work with you. This implicates directly the rules of negotiation and who of both sides is in the stronger position.

Before deciding to work together

Before sending a brief to an agency, verify the acceptance of the mission upon management. This may sound very obvious but without the acceptance you will not obtain the budget, nor be able to specify any delays. The management may decide otherwise once it will be proposed and thus change your plans.

You are advised to select no more than 4 agencies for the mission. It will be too difficult to make a selection between more and politically it is not very positive. Should you hesitate between more agencies, have a pre-selection. The selection of the agencies is a very important issue. How to distinguish the quality of an agency can be read in the dedicated article

Regarding the aim of the mission, without a clear definition, the company will not be satisfied of the result and might change its mind during the mission itself. See also the article on defining a goal.

Be sure that you clearly develop the mission that you have in mind. The written information in you brief is vital but you will also need to verify during the first meeting that your agency understands the issues and that he is able to see the scope. Read more on the rules of a well defined brief

When you have chosen your agency

When you have made the choice of the agency, your mission only starts. It is the company that should guide the agency and verify regularly that the same target is being pursuited. Only a regular contact with the project manager within the company and its counterpart within the agency can make a success. Don’t expect the agency to propose anything if you didn’t tell them what to do. They can find your solutions but it will have to be the company that guides.

If an agency is given "carte blanche" he will do whatever he finds interesting and that might be worlds apart from the companies interests. A relation will become more fluid and successful if there is contact and some more exchanges than simple emails. Invest in your relation with the agency, especially if you might want to work with them again.

When interviews write that an agency had carte blanche for a new design or a new campaign is was always within the limits of the message or the problem stated by the company. Don’t be fooled. Guide your agency, let him know what is expected and within what limits and you will decrease the risk of disapointment.


It is not because you have enagaged an external agency that you are no longer responsable, it is still your project so you will have to follow up if you want it to be a success!