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Does Inter-Agency Collaboration Work?

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It is a great idea in theory: Harness the best talent in your roster of agencies and get them to collaborate on projects.


The potential is enormous ... you stand a great chance of developing a top-shelf campaign with an integrated, cooperative feel from the beginning. You get buy-in from the best creatives in your employ, ensure that the focus is on the "work" and not on "who owns what" and extract real value for money out of those costly retainers.
It may work out that you get additional ideas generated in the competitive free-for-all -- and these can be kept on the back burner, ready to go at a moment's notice.

And while this approach is increasingly in favour with CMOs, does it actually achieve outcomes? Does it contribute to the long term viability and innovative spirit of your brand? And, importantly, does it deliver on strategic flexibility across your marketing system?


Let's take a look at how inter-agency collaboration might play out ...

First up, let's take a look at the relative strength of position within an agency roster. Normally functions and responsibilities will be broken down into silos. Agencies hired for media may be looking for a foot-in-the-door for your digital work. The digital team will be hoping for a shot at the advertising account and the promotion group will be keen to demonstrate their strategic thinking and big picture capability. Throw in a couple of fee-for-service upstarts and even the most stable roster will adopt unruly behaviour.

To shake up things even more, you may want to take a couple of agencies out of their comfort zones ... making them work on business that is outside their specialty. After all, it is quite possible that a winning idea may come out of the chaotic cauldron of collaboration.

And then it starts. What is the BIG idea? Oh, yeah ... and who owns it? The bidding will begin ... ideas will come thick and fast. There will be pitches, informal meetings, lunches and the offhand harbour cruise. Eventually, and quickly an idea will need to be adopted ... even the deepest retainer will only cover a small investment in this style of competitive collaboration. Will this be the winner? You are hoping so.


Now the work is divided up. There is a production line in place with dependencies up and down stream. On the conference calls and in meetings it is all vicious smiles. Pleasantries are exchanged, timelines are discussed and promises are made. But then it is time to crunch.

Delays in approvals stall the production before it starts. Snags in final copy and storyboards send the ideas back to the creative team, rewrites, rethinks and new scenarios are agreed. Time doesn't stand still.

Misunderstandings start to filter through the teams ... deliverables arrive in wrong formats, Mac and PC fonts cause creative meltdowns, budgets appear to be heaving and there is more focus on the brand than you were expecting -- now the CEO wants an update. Meanwhile, the TVC editing has been proceeding apace -- all looking good, with the one possible exception of missing disclaimer text. Print materials have been approved and the direct mail piece is winding up, the media slots are locked in ... and the CEO briefing goes well. Now, if you can just get legal over the line ...

Of course, your campaign is a huge hit. The calculated risk paid off. This time.

However, there is much that can cause damage in any collaborative process ... and when it comes to inter-agency projects, the stakes are high ... and the mistakes or pitfalls can have serious consequences for your brand. Things to remember include:

  • When it comes to execution, everything is tactical. This means that the balance of power may shift between agencies and lead to friction.
  • Rivalries don't suddenly cease to exist. The money you save in cooperation may need to be spent in project management.
  • Handovers never run to plan. Agree all formats and timings up front.
  • Plan for Plan B up front. Don't expect that just because you EXPECT collaboration that you will get cooperation.
  • Establish a cross-agency steering committee and ENSURE they meet regularly (especially during production)
But what do you think? Does/can inter-agency collaboration work? Should it?






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Gavin in VP & Principal Analyst with Constellation Research Group. He possesses extensive international experience in driving measurable outcomes via digital customer experience platforms, digital strategy and executing innovative content driven campaigns. With a background in enterprise technology innovation, digital strategy and customer engagement, Gavin connects the dots between disruptive technologies, enterprise governance and business leaders.

Most recently, Gavin led the customer experience, communication and social media programs for SAP's Premier Customer Network. And over the last 15 years, he has been at the forefront of innovative digital strategies for some of the world's leading companies - from IBM to Fujitsu - and on the agency side, leading the global digital strategy for McDonald's.

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  • by gianandrea Thu Sep 6, 2007 via blog

    I had in the past few trial of inter-agency collaboration. All of them proved to be close to a nightmare for several reason. a) the real battle is to get the bigger slice of budget b) when the work is ready, the various ceo step in to see if they can do better in budget split c) the strategy is then a collage of several strategy d) the final version is the collage of the collage Inter-agency works only with a clear agency of record, a restricted committee to create the communication platform and then a strong work to have all the participants to create plan resonating with the communication platform adopted. Maybe, I was just not lucky enough.

  • by Gwyneth Dwyer Fri Sep 7, 2007 via blog

    Gavin, Yes, inter-agency collaboration does work, and it's increasingly expected by clients. Target routinely expects its broadcast, digital, and promotional agencies to collaborate and the results are both innovative and cohesive across all media channels. Case in point: Target's current "Back to School" campaign. The success of this campaign is due to strong, focused creative management from Target and superb creative from Target's lead agencies. Another example: kajeet (new cell phone service for tweens). Here, great creative – advertising, interactive, and packaging – came from three different agencies working collaboratively. I do think if clients are asking for inter-agency collaboration, they must clearly assign roles and discourage a "competitive free for all."

  • by ALEJANDRO Wed Sep 12, 2007 via blog

    I agree, as a client, that I demand that my agencies collaborate together. However the experience that I've had is that it is a complete nightmare. Every agency relies only on their resources.....I don't buy inter-agency collaboration.

  • by Shari Monnes Fri Sep 14, 2007 via blog

    I think it's possible for agencies to collaborate in a way that is effective and profitable for all involved. It does, however, require a commitment to honest communication and a willingness to agree in advance to specific terms. Some networks are effective in establishing a finder's fee (commission) that encourages members to bring work into the network, but still allows all parties to get an equitable "slice of the pie." Of course, there is always a tendency for agencies to want a bigger slice, but if the there are formal rules to follow, distribution of the work load can be equitable for all. One of the biggest issues I have come across, especially when working internationally, are difficulties in communications. It's important to ensure agreements are understood and not make assumptions.

  • by Ash Snijder-Majumder Wed Apr 1, 2009 via blog

    as we all aim to minimise creative dillution in collaboration and a 'purist' attitude towards minimising or ridding creative compromise, so must we take this same approach if we believe in 'cause Marketing'. In other words collaboration will continue to grow and be expected, so we must make it work on behalf of the consumer and end benefits getting effectively through the the target audiences, whilst ensuring our commercial interests are represented fairly amongst the participant stakeholders. But to some players, this 'game' will always be about power and larger cake slices than the bigger picture and greater objective. Just remember fellow creatives and agency peers, over zealousness in owning a shared campaign, just makes you into a finance-only driven banker, not a fair-share communicator, and look what they have achieved for us all in today's markets? :-/

  • by thermal vision scopes Tue Jan 17, 2012 via blog

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