“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” Tony A. Gaskins Jr.
Relationships begin and end for various reasons. More often than not, the reason for the split is that expectations weren’t met.
Long ago, when my friends and I were on the dating scene, we always had at least one friend who was expecting a proposal for marriage from their long-time boyfriend. After many tears and arguments, their relationship ended because the boyfriend wasn’t ready for marriage. But if those expectations had been set from the first date, perhaps the disappointment would have been avoided.
Setting rules of engagement in any relationship is essential. Both parties should understand expectations and agree to a certain decorum.
As a client who hired agencies for creative projects, I understood the importance of setting expectations upfront with our partners and freelancers so that my goals would be met on time and on budget – and so my boss wouldn’t fire me.
As an agency founder, I’ve experienced the disappointment that occurs when expectations were not set in advance. As a freelancer, I took on projects that went waaaaay beyond the agreed scope of work when the client wasn’t clear on their objective. I’ve been stood up on video conference calls when the client wasn’t engaged. A client has even yelled at me.
These lessons helped me to understand the importance of setting expectations upfront to maintain a successful client-agency relationship.
I’ve learned that maintaining a successful relationship requires clear communication, mutual respect, and a shared understanding of expectations.
Here are some rules of engagement that can help establish a positive and productive working relationship with your agency.
Define Goals and Objectives
Before engaging with an agency, consider the outcome you’re hoping to achieve from the work your agency is performing. Defining clear goals and objectives will help ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same result.
Vague goals like “a good website design” or “more eyeballs on our content” are unclear and will leave your agency guessing what’s important to your team.
Clear, defined campaign metrics like a 10% increase in leads or a 5% increase in conversions are easy to track and set goal for your agency to achieve.
Agencies WANT to set and achieve your goals so that we can maintain your business and prove that our work is valuable for other clients.
Establish Communication Channels
Both the client and agency should determine the preferred channels for communication and set expectations around response times from the start of the engagement.
Make sure to establish rules for when texting, email, or chatting are utilized to prevent misunderstandings.
Weekly and monthly meetings with a clear agenda to review projects and performance keep both parties on track.
Agencies that utilize a project management system that the client can view increases visibility and accountability.
Utilize one method of communication for project feedback, like a project management system or a file-sharing program. Sticking to one system will help you stay on top of feedback promptly.
Provide Clear Feedback
Giving feedback is a key part of the client-agency relationship. The client should provide clear and constructive feedback to the agency to help them understand what is working and what needs improvement. This feedback should be specific, timely, and respectful.
- Specific: “I like the use of color on this landing page. Could we incorporate our red-tone brand color in the button?” or “Can you use the image I saved in the folder titled “Female Doctor” on this banner?”
- Timely: “I’ll review and send my edits by the end of the day tomorrow.”
- Respectful: “I appreciate the use of color on this brochure but would like more white space.” Instead of “This is too busy and loud.”
Non-creative executives often struggle to express their opinion on creative brand assets. They know what they like when they see it. We advise our clients to provide an example of what they like before starting the project and asking what they like about it. For instance, do you prefer white space or background color? Script font or clean, sans serif?
No one wants to hear that their baby is ugly when it comes to designing brand assets. However, the agency should be open to feedback and changes throughout the creative process. Likewise, the client should be open to a new idea or representation of their brand that aligns with their brand strategy and guidelines. Flexibility allows for adaptation to new circumstances and opportunities for improvement.
Compromise is a part of any great relationship. Remain flexible and remember who the expert is and why you hired them.
Deadlines are essential to keep projects moving and achieve your goals. Both the client and agency should respect each other’s time by meeting deadlines and providing ample notice for any changes to the timeline.
When a client gives a tight timeline to complete a project, communication is critical. Set expectations of what needs to be done by what date and time. If one task is missed, that could throw off the entire project timeline.
Agencies may add a “rush fee” for frequent same-day project turnarounds that throw off other priorities.
Set Realistic Expectations
The client should have realistic expectations regarding the agency’s capabilities and the timeframe needed to complete the project. The agency should also be transparent about what is possible within the given budget and timeline.
Realistic expectations for project timelines for a marketing agency depend on the scope and complexity of the project, as well as other factors such as the availability of resources and information. Here are five examples of realistic expectations for project timelines:
Social media campaign: A social media campaign that involves creating a few posts and graphics may take 1-2 weeks to complete.
Website redesign: A website redesign that involves a complete overhaul of the design and content may take around 2-4 months to complete, depending on the website’s size and the project’s complexity.
Branding package: A new logo, business cards, and other marketing materials may take 3-4 weeks to complete.
Product launch: A product launch that involves creating marketing materials, developing a website, and launching an advertising campaign may take 3-6 months to complete.
Email marketing campaign: An email marketing campaign that involves designing email templates and writing content may take 2-3 weeks to complete.
Utilize historic data to determine benchmarks for results to ensure expected campaign performance results are realistic.
Foster a Collaborative Environment
When an agency is hired to plan and execute a campaign or a project, the client can feel relief that the task is off their plate. They may feel like their job is done and the agency is now responsible for the results. But collaboration is crucial to the success of the project. While the agency is the subject matter expert in their field, the client best understands the nuances of their industry and business.
A collaborative approach allows the client and agency to work together towards a common goal. Encouraging open communication, brainstorming sessions, and active listening can help foster a positive and productive working relationship.
Clients who are available for regular meetings and provide energized feedback often see better results from their agencies.
A successful relationship between a creative marketing agency and its clients is built on trust, transparency, and a shared commitment to achieving success. By following these rules of engagement, both parties can work together to create effective marketing campaigns that meet business objectives and exceed expectations.
Are you happy with your agency’s collaboration efforts?