Using multiple agencies in pharma marketing is the new reality. In the past, pharmaceutical companies typically hired one agency of record and that agency was responsible for everything. In today’s world, it is not always possible to simply work with one agency. Instead, companies are hiring and then balancing the work of multiple agencies, often with each providing a single service.
Since the world of one-size-fits-all agencies is a thing of the past, brand managers today need to focus on creating strategically thoughtful and creatively cohesive campaigns while using multiple agencies, each providing a different piece of the marketing puzzle. Managing multiple agencies can in itself be a full-time responsibility. For a brand manager trying to incorporate this new task into his/her already growing list of responsibilities, it can be harrowing. To make this extra responsibility a bit less stressful, brand managers will want to create a collaborative relationship between the agencies, while still fostering their competitive nature.
Balancing Between Collaboration and Competition
Successful marketing campaigns are likely to be highly visible. They create energy, noise and are sticky. In fact, marketing campaigns are a lot like a fire—and agencies are the ones who build it. One agency might possess the matches and, on their own, can throw a little light for a short period of time. At the same time, another agency might have the firewood and could make some noise banging sticks together, but how long will that last? A third agency could have the fuel—an important part of your marketing strategy—but all alone, they might not be very successful.
If you are working with multiple agencies, you will need to bring these agencies together so that they can collaborate by sharing ideas and strategies. That’s when you get the big blazing fire, along with longevity and high visibility.
So how do you get all of the agencies to collaborate? At the root of collaboration is communication, and at the center are the brand manager, the brand and the needs of both. If each agency takes a siloed approach to work they may never realize that their idea could have been bigger and brighter if they had collaborated with the other agencies.
Provide the Platform
That’s where you come in. It is your job to provide the agencies with a platform for collaboration—and it can be done in a number of ways. Consider:
- Holding a weekly or monthly status conference call with all agencies.
- Hosting a quarterly agency day, in which representatives from each agency come in and present what they are currently working on.
- Designating an annual brand planning agency day.
An annual brand planning agency day is a great opportunity to present the brand’s metrics from the previous year and outline the goals for the following year. It is also an opportunity for all of the agencies involved to understand what the year ahead looks like so that they can make recommendations on strategic and tactical solutions.
To foster the competitive nature that all agencies have—they all want to be the best and all want your business—let the agencies know that although they may be considered the strategic agency or the media agency, you are always open to ideas from everyone. This is a way to harness that competitiveness and make it work to your advantage.
Advantages of Working With Agency Teams
Agencies are natural born competitors. They compete for new business. They compete for more business with a brand. They compete for more brands at a company. They want to be the agency of record, win awards, and they compete for the same human capital. In a lot of ways, what you are asking them to do goes against everything they are trained to do. After all, you are asking them to share some of their secret sauce and work with other agencies who may be direct competitors. But what is important for the agencies to understand—and it is your job to tell them—is that an agency that doesn’t work well with other agencies may not end up doing a lot of work for you.
Ideally, every agency will provide one set of skills with no overlap. But in today’s agency environment that is not a realistic expectation. However, that is good news for you because an agency that specializes in relationship marketing might also have an amazing creative team. Or, an agency that focuses on media may also have a really strong strategic group.
Determining which agency fills each need best is part of the selection process, but this is where I caution you: Don’t be afraid to branch out beyond the agency’s initial assignment. If you have a brief for an upcoming project, send it to all of your agencies and let them all pitch for the work. Letting them know that the other agencies on the team are also vying for the project can help to get the best work from each team, allowing you to choose the agency that is the best fit for that particular project.
This also will create a competitive environment for pricing. An agency that is typically your strategic agency, but wants to do more or wants to be considered for tactical projects is more likely to provide competitive pricing to get their foot in the door. This may also mean your go-to agency has to start looking more closely at their pricing.
This is an all-around win for you. Not only can you choose the agency that is the best fit for a particular project, but often you will also see cost savings. And the chances are, you will start to see some agencies in a different light—with all their strengths and weaknesses. By allowing them to compete for specific pieces of work, you may come to see that an agency you hadn’t previously considered for a certain kind of work is actually a valuable resource in that area. The opposite might also be true. You may find that one of your agencies that specializes in a specific area is struggling to compete with your other agencies. This kind of insight is particularly helpful when considering renewal of agency agreements or even looking for an agency for a new brand.
Playing Well Together
While the brand manager is at the center of this agency universe, each agency needs to take responsibility for coordinating efforts between themselves as well. You can only take things so far—agencies have to play well together to succeed. So each agency should have someone who is the liaison between all of the agencies to ensure that there is clear communication between all. Each agency should also constantly evaluate their work to ensure that they are providing the brand with their best work. And each agency has to learn that they are not your only agency.
Identify and Resolve Conflicts
Inevitably, there will be conflict between agencies whether or not you see or hear about it. Try to identify that conflict and resolve it before both the brand and the work are affected. Through open and honest communication, not only between you and your agencies, but also between each agency, conflicts can usually be identified and resolved before they escalate. A few ways to do this include:
- Encouraging each agency to evaluate the others: Ask them to rate each other’s level of communication.
- Sending each agency a quick survey: Ask them if they believe the other agencies are working collaboratively with them and each other.
- Asking what they think can be done to facilitate better communication.
- Asking how you can help them achieve greater communication and collaboration.
It’s also important to find creative ways to bring your agency team together. Assigning specific tasks to your team as a whole encourages a collaborative environment. For instance, ask agencies to work together to create one weekly status report and hold one meeting a week to review. This not only brings everyone together to discuss projects and avoid redundant meetings, but can also save your company time and money.
Also, schedule brainstorming sessions quarterly with all agencies—and don’t be afraid to mix them up. It’s a good idea to ask a member from each agency to work with members from other agencies to come up with innovative strategies and tactics. This not only allows everyone to engage with members of the other agencies—which they may not normally do—but could also provide the brand with new ideas that might not have been conceived in any other way.
As with all relationships, success doesn’t just happen naturally. These relationships must be open, honest and expectations need to be set, met and constantly reassessed. Successful collaboration between agencies begins and ends with you.
The opinions in this article are the author’s and not attributable to Purdue Pharma L.P.