I recently read a piece on AdvertisingAge called Clients Must Provide Transparency, Too, by Randy Cohen. A story with a title as blunt and direct as it is relevant, especially in terms identifying potential partnerships and truly getting (and giving) the key information needed to choose the right agency for the job.

The article drives at a problem between marketers and their agencies, but it also resonates with me as an issue that can and should be addressed during the sourcing process, both inside and outside of the marketing space. Procurement pros will get out of their sourcing initiatives what they put in, so if there’s an opportunity to get more, let’s examine it.

Transparency Works Both Ways
My main takeaway from the article is this: the flow of three-foot information as well as thirty-thousand-foot vision needs to be a two way street. Marketers demand more and more transparency from their agencies or prospective agencies, but are they able to give it as well? To cherry pick a couple paragraphs…

From what we've seen, too many clients are still stuck in old habits, "Why would I give my agency sales data?" Today, there is no longer any reason to hold back.
This transparency is missing from most agency-client relationships and from the overall industry transparency debate. Agencies cannot possibly make a top-to-bottom measurable difference for a brand without the facts. They have to understand what client success really looks like at every level.

The article ends with a call to arms, so to speak, for both sides. Marketers need to get better at collaborating with the agencies they are trusting to carry out their vision. So how do we go about doing this?

Start at the Beginning
Utilizing an RFP is a common way for marketers to effectively identify best-in-class agencies most suited to a job, outline the scope of work, and gather critical budgetary information. This is a great opportunity to start building transparency, but also one that goes by the wayside.
I’ve written before about a few great ways to drive a supplier nuts (and also far, far away from your RFP initiative). Some of the points made are relevant here, and should be expanded as well.
Defining scope of work is important… But we can go further. A poorly defined scope of work will lead to a few big headaches – the more holes in your scope, the more questions that will arise throughout the RFP process and the greater the likelihood a bid coming back that doesn’t truly fit your needs (leading to increased costs later on). Take the time to fully articulate what it is you need. To go a step further, define why you need it as well, and provide any historical data to back up how you see an agency moving forward with you to achieve your goals.

Provide opportunities for open communication… But let agencies take full advantage as well. An agency relationship is not the same as your relationship with an office supplies provider. If you don’t treat it as a partnership, you’re in for trouble. Agencies know this, and see a lack of communication during the sourcing process as a huge red flag. It goes without saying that there should be plenty of opportunities for Q&A sessions to clarify scope and desired outcomes. However, some marketers offer minimal responses during these sessions, playing their cards as close to the vest as possible. Retaining control of the process is important, but consider whether holding information back is helping you keep that control, or simply hamstringing the agencies.

Drive Your Own Success
At the end of the day, marketers need to take a greater part in their own success by giving agencies the tools and information necessary to thrive. Starting at the beginning of the relationship is your best bet. We have a real opportunity to "measure twice and cut once" here in terms of getting highly targeted proposals from our suppliers by explaining clearly and transparently what we need, why we need it, and how we can build a road map with suppliers to achieve our goals.
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Brian Seipel

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