5 Ways to Know an Agency Means Business and How to Reciprocate

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By Christina Richardson, Co-Founder & CMO, Openr

As the marketing world embraces innovation as a cornerstone of the future, it is becoming common for agencies and brands to work hand-in-hand with entrepreneurial start-ups. It seems if you haven’t got a Hub, Incubator or Accelerator to your name you might just be behind the times.

But that doesn’t mean everyone is cut out to play, and as a high-growth start-up in this space we’ve learnt to spot the doers, from the talkers.

Openr adds actionable messages to socially-shared content: this means we can be working with a wide variety of marketers, both brand and agency-side -- heads of social, content and digital strategists. With this holistic view, it’s easy to see the cultural challenges at play. It’s a delicate path our agency partners have to navigate, balancing service to clients with the expectations of start-ups.

But without a doubt there are leaders and laggards in this innovation game, and some agencies are paving the way with a clear winning formula to help navigate these differences together.

When we look at agency partners, we look for five pillars that demonstrate their commitment.

Speed

The single biggest cultural difference is speed of decision-making and implementation:  for fast-moving start-ups a month can feel like an eternity.

By contrast, the planning and sign-off process within a large brand can take a year, and coming from that world I know this is set in stone. So as a start-up founder I make it my job to understand the decision-making process upfront, and agencies can help by sharing micro-updates – even if it’s just to say ‘we’re still on it’ or ‘it’s a No with this client’ – to keep the relationship buoyant.

People

To make things happen, make it someone’s job to make them happen: the leading agencies appoint senior people to champion the integration of tech innovation throughout the agency. They are accountable for making it happen and some even have board-level KPIs around it.

This drives the action we all want, but also helps everyone save time: start-ups can find who to approach within the agency, and the innovation-lead can act as gate-keeper so only the tech that is suitable (and ready) gets presented into the agency teams busy on client accounts. Once we know there's a lead within the agency, we'll dedicate time to understand what would make their job easier, even joining workshops and advisory boards that help build knowledge together.

Education

The innovation-lead is key to getting the ball rolling, but the account teams are the key to winning client heart and minds: in a large agency, running events is a great way to share innovation with the wider team.

But what sets the true agency-innovators apart is the follow-up post event. These sessions can easily become a show-and-tell to learn what new tech is out there – the ultimate start-up time-waste. By contrast, those focused on innovation mobilise teams to get the start-ups into relevant clients at pace, and we respond by committing time and resource to match.

Mindset

Working together is the way to wow the client: integrating start-up innovation into client campaigns is rooted in collaborative relationships. It is our job to inspire account teams with how our tool could come to life for clients - which is why we'll create bespoke mock-ups for clients for account teams.

But no-one knows the clients like the account managers, so the real magic happens when we work collaboratively to create or improve those examples together, so that the client is inspired to act.

Momentum

As the gate-keepers of innovation, it’s vital that agencies embrace the excitement to overcome the fear of doing something new: when a start-up is introduced to a client it is the best time to capture commitment to doing a small trial. This is hugely low risk, but gets momentum going. In some cases, early deadlines have been set as a team challenge to see how quickly a trial can be implemented. This makes the test-and-learn phase much quicker and leads to understanding long-term fit much more quickly, which is better for everyone.

These are the five pillars we look out for in our agency partners. When we see these, we know we have a team committed to building a collaborative relationship, committed to making things happen.

And at the end of the day, that’s what we all want: cutting-edge innovation brought to life on some of the biggest brands in the world.

About the Author

Christina is co-founder and CMO at Openr, the tool to drive action from all the content shared on social. She is also involved in the IPA’s three-phase initiative to improve understanding and working practices between agencies and tech start-ups. She will be speaking about this in more detail at the IPA’s AdWeek session Getting it right: innovating the way agencies work with start-ups at 3.30pm on Wednesday 20 April.