10 ways to be a great agency client

Below are some top tips on how to have a successful relationship with your agency…

1. Involve stakeholders early on

I’ve been involved in situations where clients share too little too late with their own internal stakeholders. The reality is, organisational silos inhibit success, so keeping things to yourself is unlikely, in the medium to long-term, help anyone achieve what they set out to.

2. Disclose budgets

In the real world, whenever we want to purchase a product or service, we outline the budget we have in mind – otherwise, how would the car dealership know what you mean when you say you want a “great car” or an estate agent know what you’re looking for if the only parameter is that your seeking “the perfect home”? Disclosing your budget, even as a range, helps your agency develop a proposal aligned with your expectations.

3. Treat your agency as an extension of your team

If you don’t trust your agency, you probably shouldn’t have hired them. Every piece of great client work I’ve ever been involved in has shared the same characteristic – namely, the client treated us as an extension of their own team that brought capabilities and capacity that wasn’t present inhouse.

4. Establish clear boundaries of responsibility

There’s few things worse than balls getting dropped simply because no one knew they were responsible for picking things up. Make it clear in your Statement of Work, and any plans developed subsequent, what responsibilities are owned by who.

5. Respect that they are a time based business

Agencies are usually time based businesses, billing by the hour. It’s fine if you’d like an hour long conference call with the entire team each week, but this eats of time that people could be using to deliver. Don’t get me wrong – regular communication is very important, but budget for it upfront.

6. Understand and communicate your own objectives clearly, as well as their motivating factors

It’s important that your agency clearly understands your objectives and the motivating factors behind them. This isn’t just about aligning with your corporate strategy – it’s about helping you look good by helping you contribute towards meeting that strategy.

7. Deliverables and processes should be iterative – encourage failure where it contributes to future success

Throughout the client/agency relationship, you’ll be continually learning through success and failure. Identify and leverage these learnings early, making iterative adjustments that capitalise on them. Just because the SOW states your agency will do something a particular way doesn’t mean that, with your agreement, 6 months from now they should be sticking to the letter if your interests are better served by some adjustment.

8. Flag dissatisfaction early and offer a chance to improve

Sometimes agencies don’t get it right – they put the wrong people in place or misunderstand a process or deliverable. When that happens, let them know as soon as possible so that they have a chance to rectify the situation. Letting things simmer beneath the surface until you can’t take anymore can ultimately lead to a time consuming re-pitch that diverts agency resource as well as your time.

9. Don’t let procurement weigh cost greater than capability and creativity

You know what you want from your agency, so don’t let the generalists in procurement tell you any different – it’s better to get what you need from the agency you’d prefer to work with than to be saddled with a procurement led decision where cost is the most heavily weighed factor.

10. Recognise that commercial and professional incentives are different

Agency people love to do intellectually challenging, creative work. The agencies they work for may very well love the awards that type of work might bring, but are ultimately a commercial entity so are driven by revenue, profitability and margins. Many agency people feel awkward having commercial conversations with their clients – it’s not why most of them joined the industry they’re in – so make it easy: define the amount of time based budget that should be spent on activities upfront.


Like all relationships, those between clients and their agencies take a bit of work but it’s worth a bit of give and take to get this right.

(Please note that the opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely my own and may or may not be shared by my employer and/or colleagues.)