Tame Agency Chaos in 4 Quick Tips: Part 2

March 29, 2017 Marcus Varner

In a recent webinar, marketing experts Lee Odden and Heather Hurst shared their four key solutions for producing great creative work efficiently. What follows is the second in a three-part recap of the webinar. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.

Heather Hurst:  Which then brings us to communication. How do you communicate effectively with both the employees of the agency as well as your clients? This can be where you run into a lot of problems when there’s a communication breakdown that could have prevented something from flaring up.

Like snowflakes, every client can be different, and it’s up to the agency working with the client to figure out how much communication the client really wants.

You definitely need to have proactive outreach with your clients. I know there can be clients who go dark, and some agencies really love those clients because they continue to bill a retainer without actually having to talk.

Lee Odden:  No, no, no, no, no.

Heather Hurst:  But, it’s not the right way to go, and it’s a very, very bad example of a client-agency partnership or, I guess, lack thereof. Every time I’ve heard stories like that, I just cringe and kind of want to walk away. Like, I don’t want to be a witness to the crime in case I’m called to testify later.

Then there are times when account teams wait to have a problem, and then they try to fix it. One agency that I work with, they send out a quarterly survey, kind of a satisfaction survey.

It’s three or four questions, but basically the bottom line is, “How is our time working with the agency going?” It’s a great opportunity for them to identify any issues early before they would have filtered up to the top brass at the agency so to speak.

Then there’s alternative moments of truth.

Lee Odden:  Good idea, good idea.

Heather Hurst:  Go ahead, Lee.

Lee Odden:  No, I was just saying that’s a great idea, that sort of structured feedback. You know what I mean? Because I am sure there are account people that are getting feedback, but there’s a certain context for that.

So for the agency to send out a survey is another opportunity for them to provide feedback, to provide the kind of information necessary to make it a great experience.

Heather Hurst:  Absolutely, and this particular agency, they don’t let me not do it, if that makes sense. They will follow up with me repeatedly and say, “You know, Heather, this is really key to make sure that we’re all working together really well.”

Just the fact that they do it at all gives me a better sense of an open line of communication to them if anything were to come up.

Lee Odden:  Definitely.

Heather Hurst:  When you look at communication and when you look at the challenges that companies have working with agencies, it’s really sad to see in this survey done by a company called Clutch that communication came out at the top of the list.

Which shows that while there’s a lot of good theory around communication, I think there’s a lot to be solved.

Lee Odden:  It’s also pretty important to find your canary. I love that expression because things can go wrong. It’s not like hitting a golf ball and you’re off a little bit at the beginning, and it’s hundreds of yards off down the fairway. And nobody’s hurt by that really, except for that guy standing over in the sand dune.

No, really, you need to find a way to have your fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the agency early enough so you can avoid disaster. You identify issues before they become a problem. So part of doing that starts with building maturity in your processes so that way you can see issues coming.

If you have standards, for example, for certain kinds of client engagements or individual tasks ranging from creating an infographic to a motion graphic, having those standards will help identify potential problems when those tasks start to deviate from the norm.

You should have some means of tracking your work so you can identify those deviations, and you can kind of reach out and just make sure things are on track versus it getting all the way to a client deliverable for example.

Another way to kind of find your canary, so to speak, is to give this ability into agency activities and communicate with clients in terms of expectations.

So whether it’s managing overall hours for an engagement compared to a benchmark of some kind or individual hours for very specific tasks, getting a heads up really early is going to trigger the need to communicate either with staff or with a client so you can get everything back on track.

Another essential part of communication is being able to have uncomfortable conversations both with clients and with your own staff.

You shouldn’t confuse uncomfortable content with uncomfortable situations, and people who like to talk shop in the bathroom, I’m talking to you. You know who I’m talking about.

Heather Hurst:  I hope their numbers are dwindling every day.

Lee Odden:  “Hey, Bob, I just got a quick question for you.” Somebody calling me Bob is already off track, right?

Heather Hurst:  Right, absolutely.

Lee Odden:  It’s also important to create guidelines that your staff can follow.

So for escalation, whether it’s interacting with a stubborn employee or it’s working with a client and things are just really, really going off track, there should be some compliance or documented processes people can follow so they know what route to take before it totally blows up and you get into a situation where someone overcommits a solution and it’s inappropriate.

Then the agency’s on the hook for doing 1000 percent more work than was originally agreed to, which is no good for anybody. Another angle or situation here is scope creep, which I think is its own type of horror movie: "The Attack of the Scope of Creep." We have to have that slide next time.

Especially when things go off balance because scope creep can be very, very expensive, and the fault isn’t always going to lie with demanding clients.

Scope creep can occur because of, let’s say, an account manager that wants to push beyond the state of deliverables either because they’re recovering from an issue, or maybe they just want to impress the client early on in the engagement.

So you’ve got to make it easy for clients to communicate with you about project scope—underserved, over served—by documenting what the project scope is and communicating that with them.

You use that documented scope of work as part of the project management, so that everyone is clear from a timeline perspective, if anything else: where we are, what’s next, what came before us, and when are we finished sort of thing.

It should be crystal clear where we are at all times, and then we can avoid some of these problems.

Heather Hurst:  I think having that open line of communication with your clients will also help with this because if you do have scope creep, you have a way to come to them and have a friendliness with them that you can say, “Hey, remember you said you wanted A? Well, now we’re delivering B, C, D. We need to have a conversation.”

Lee Odden:  Right, right. Like we suggested earlier: having those documented processes for ad hoc requests, the ad hoc request process that you would use internally to better manage your team’s hours and time, there’s obviously got to be something that allocates for that on the client side as well.

If that means, “Okay, well, things at this threshold will trigger a change request,” which is an additional billable item, or, “Can we squeeze this in, or is this something we can eat?” Having some sort of framework for how that works is really, really important.

To watch the "Agency Life: 4 Tips for Producing Great Creative Work Efficiently" webinar on demand, featuring Lee Odden and Heather Hurst, click here.

To see Part Three in our recap of the webinar, check out our April 5 post or subscribe to receive our newsletter.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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Tame Agency Chaos in 4 Quick Tips: Part 3
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Tame Agency Chaos in 4 Quick Tips: Part 1
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