As healthcare executives we are always focused on providing the best ideas, strategies, and tactics possible to educate our patients, drive our brands, and deliver the steep financial commitments that we face year over year. Knowing the margin for error is small and resources are more often than not extremely tight, we feel this immense pressure to get it right. In times like this, we look to agencies to help us achieve success. To achieve this so-called success and reach our goals, we need to ensure a seamless working partnership between our client brand teams and our agencies of choice.
People always ask me how I am able to work so well with my agencies. I used to think it was an odd question because I was naïve in not recognizing that these relationships don’t always operate smoothly. I quickly realized I was quite wrong as colleagues schooled me on some of the nightmares they have encountered. My philosophy is quite simple: The success between the client and the agency is heavily dependent on how well both teams truly connect with each other—with the key word being truly. The agency needs a firm grasp on understanding the client’s needs and delivering exactly what they are asking for. This is not an easy task but it is an absolute must in order for the dual relationship to positively skyrocket.
I recommend following these five steps, which have led me to continuously successful client/agency partnerships.
1. Connection is Key
I’ve mentioned this briefly already but having a real connection with your agency in relation to your team’s needs and their abilities is one of the first steps on the road to success. Connecting on a high level with your agency will not only result in outstanding work, it will also reduce costs. By working efficiently and making sure you and your agency are on the same page, you will truly get the most out of your budget.
Understanding the agency’s capabilities and helping them understand exactly what you’re looking for will make your partnership go even further than you thought possible. Reaching this level of understanding can help minimize the budget and timing restrictions you face in reaching your team’s goals.
2. Say it Loud and Proud (Even if it’s Bad)
We need to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. We need to completely drop all preconceived notions of what we think a client and partner relationship should be. It doesn’t matter what it should be—what matters is what it could be! Aspire to bigger goals. Have open and honest conversations, even if the conversations aren’t pleasant. Be transparent and authentic. Commit to giving honest feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly. People can sense when you are holding back and that in turn hurts the trust that has been built between both parties. Finally, always implement a continuous feedback loop as it will lead to efficiencies within the partnership.
3. Don’t Rely on a “Crystal Ball” Approach—Be Crystal Clear to Guarantee Expectations Are Met
Don’t expect agencies to be able to just magically deliver what you want. It is imperative that both parties clearly understand the expectations on both sides of the partnership. Set clear goals, establish air-tight timelines and check-ins, identify metrics that matter and, most importantly, seek alignment to ensure both sides are delivering on time.
4. Spread the Love…Make the Agency Feel Like Part of the Team
My agency is without a doubt part of our team and is intimately involved in the brand. They are brought into the details of our brands, the organization, commitments, and beyond. That said, the agency is not only there to deliver great work and achieve agreed upon results. They are also there to help you shine by being your advocate and to help you continue bringing innovative solutions to your brands and teams. It is important to note that just as they advocate for you, you must advocate for them by referring them to other teams and showcasing the great work they do.
5. Leave it to the Experts
Last but in no way least: Let the agency do what you hired them to do. As clients we oftentimes think that we know our business the best so we hire agencies to do a job and tell them exactly how to do it. This really hampers the sole purpose of hiring the agency in the first place! The key to success is to clearly articulate the needs of the business and then let that agency do what they specialize in. You hired them for a reason, so let them do their job. Micromanaging or dictating to any agency kills the strategic muscle and creativity that they bring to the table.
Next, I would tell you to let the agency take BIG risks as that’s more my personality, but if the risk isn’t comfortable for you at least be open to it. That “risky” idea may be the next best thing in healthcare, so don’t limit your agency’s ability to deliver on it. Let them explore the risk—both the positives and the negatives—and then decide how to proceed.