As more and more brands come to understand the undeniable value of digital media campaigns, many of them feel a multi-agency approach is the best fit for them. This way of working can have many positive effects, but it also throws up a number of challenges that it pays to be aware of before setting out your strategy.
Aristotle was onto something when he wrote that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’, and when considering appointing multiple agencies to work together, there are a number of steps and checks to put in place to ensure that your various agencies work seamlessly together and don’t tread on each other’s toes. Better a well-oiled machine than a jumble of cogs, sprockets and parts that don’t fit.
A bold brief
Key amongst these steps is a clear brief from the client – everything flows from this starting point. It may be that agencies who specialise in digital, branding, above the line, media buying and PR may all be asked to collaborate on a single project, and the best possible start is for all of them to have absolute clarity about the end goal. They need to know what ‘done’ looks like, and they need to know what constitutes success for the campaign.
A thorough and understandable brief will let your agencies identify the key deliverables and build out smart KPIs – these are the foundations an integrated agency approach are built on.
Having this in place makes the next step easier – fostering a culture of communication. The perfect way to start this is by bringing your agencies together, whether in the real world or virtually. Establishing a communications plan – whether it consists of regular phone calls, shared documents, video conferences, meetings or all of the above – will foster a collaborative spirit and ensure that crossed wires are kept to a minimum.
It may be that you have a lead agency responsible for putting this into place and setting the agenda, or that a key person is appointed at each agency as a representative. Whichever way you do it, make sure they everyone is talking to each other.
Round pegs, round holes
Of course, there’s not much to talk about if no-one knows what they’re doing. Again, this is something to consider at the outset. It’s vital to have a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities. It’s good to avoid landgrabs while being aware that some agency work will inevitably cross over. Transparency and communication are key when you discuss how you manage this. Muddy waters about who does what can cause logjams, confusion and underperformance. Get your agencies clear on what’s expected and they can all deliver against their strengths.
It also means the client gets the most for their money. Two agencies who are supposed to be dovetailing on a project may end up duplicating each other’s efforts – contacting two different journalists on the same publication in search of a story with a link, for example – and end up cancelling each other out.
Yet having defined experts and specialists focussing on their key strengths doesn’t mean your agencies should have a silo mentality. That brilliant brief and clear communications plan you got right at the start will ensure this doesn’t happen.
Don't let milestones become millstones
Think about not just how your agencies communicate but also how they physically share work if they're in different locations. Whether it's via email, uploaded to a Google drive or using purpose-built project management software, it's key that everyone can get eyes on the campaign assets when they need to and can use them to feedback and move things along.
Your agencies will have to consider software compatibility, file size limitations, IP blocking and myriad other technical issues that could cause disruptions in a smooth plan if that clear line of reciprocal feedback isn't established early on. It's equally important that when someone delivers assets for review, they're being reviewed by the right people. This loops back to having the right people performing the right roles.
Lost in translation
A final consideration when assembling your agencies if you’re working on an international basis is to take account of language barriers, different time zones and cultural differences. Hopefully, you've carefully chosen agencies who'll be acutely aware of these challenges, and know how to work around them, but when one team's 'close of play' is another team's bedtime, it's best to have a plan in place.
The dream team
The US basketball team were predicted to romp to gold in the 2004 Olympic games in Athens. These household names, multi-millionaires all, swaggered onto court like the only team in town. Instead, they wound up on the wrong end of a humiliating defeat by Puerto Rico in their very first game. Analysts rushed to assess what went wrong.
The conclusions: a team hastily assembled, with the wrong people filling the wrong slots, with no clear game plan. Not so much a jigsaw puzzle as dozens of jigsaw pieces pulled out of different boxes and forced together. If you want your multiple agencies to become a team of all stars who'll deliver gold for you, integration starts from day one, not when it's too late to fix the issues that will hamstring your campaign.