Clients Are Demanding Better Agency Collaboration. Here Are 5 Ways to Get There

Strong alliances are critical for success

I finally watched the Steve Jobs movie the other night and truly pondered his genius and the impact he made on the world. When I broke into the business, we used electric typewriters that had the ability to erase a single letter. Times have indeed changed.

Zach Rosenberg

In the movie, I loved the references to Chiat/Day and Lee Clow and the legendary 1984 commercial that ran in the Super Bowl and featured skinheads and no product. Talk about a departure from conventional marketing wisdom. I arrived at Chiat/Day in the early '90s without experiencing the wonder of Apple directly. My time there was profound though, getting the chance to work with Jay Chiat and Lee Clow and other great creative folks.

I remember our mantra was "good enough is not enough." Funny thing is, I always thought that statement set us up for failure. While it forces you to always strive for greatness, you'll essentially never achieve it. Media had not yet unbundled and while it played a very integral role, it felt like a back room function at times. I remember when there were stalemates between the departments on work, creative typically prevailed.

When I made the jump to the media agency side, unbundling was still a few years away yet, media was fragmenting and getting really interesting. Once everything unbundled, media had an equal seat at the strategy table and it highlighted the need for collaboration even more to ensure all disciplines were working in sync.

Publicly held agencies aren't built to objectively collaborate on behalf of their clients. That is because they have separate profit centers which can lead to a less collaborative culture. Working on the independent media agency side for the past two decades made it easy to collaborate with our clients' agency partners. We were not a threat to anyone as we didn't own a creative agency. As an independent agency, there are no shareholders so the focus is always clients and employees first. That creates an agility better than anyone else. There have even been cases where holding company agencies have come to us when they are conflicted or simply when they're not feeling the love from their sibling agency.

Working collaboratively for a shared client is critical for their success, especially as clients have leaner marketing departments and more responsibilities then they did a decade ago. There is added pressure as clients are hiring creative agencies more on a project basis rather than an agency of record. As a result, it becomes that much more critical to collaborate effectively to support the clients' marketing programs. With the complexity and choice of media channels, there are a lot more moving parts than ever before.

Complicating things even further is the importance and reliance on data. While data informs media, it can also inform creative. This is yet another reason to ensure full collaboration at every stage.

Here are five simple ways agencies can better collaborate:

1. Media and creative agencies need to be present during the initial brand immersion phase.
2. Schedule a touchpoint to share identified channels and ensure initial alignment.
3. Devise detailed timelines to allow for ample creative production and delivery.
4. Share recommended research, data and plans early on to ensure strategic adherence.
5. Review final plan recommendations with all agency partners prior to client presentation to ensure tactical adherence.

There has been a lot of activity around media agencies enhancing their skill set with creative services including branded content, ideation and invention teams. Regardless, the burden is on the media agency to ensure collaboration especially as we are taking on so many more of the marketing responsibilities.

At this year's 4A's conference in Miami, Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB, discussed how collaboration is the root of speed and efficiency. She highlighted DDB Flex, a discipline that embeds their various partners upfront putting the clients' agenda first. Clark cited "how" they work is equally as important as "what" they do. It was refreshing to hear how a large publicly held media agency is taking a lead in this area. This also suggests collaboration has not been as strong historically as it should have been.


As a media agency, independent or publicly held, if you're not taking a proactive approach to ensure you are communicating with your clients' key agency partners early and continuously, electronically and in person, you are doing them a disservice.

But I bet if you follow my five steps, you'll never have to scramble to catch up to the present—and the future.

Zach Rosenberg (@ZachRosenberg) is president of independent media agency MBMG