4 Ways to Get the Most From Your Agency

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McMahan: Get closer to your agencies.
McMahan: Get closer to your agencies.

As CMO of Heineken and VP Marketing for Diageo, Christian McMahan held sway over some significant marketing budgets and agency relationships. Now on the other side as managing partner of Smartfish, McMahan gave the marketers in attendance at the eBev conference a list of things he knows now about getting the most of an agency that he wished he knew when he was a client. To wit:

Build relationships with senior agency staff. Clients are used to getting buttered up by agencies, but showing some TLC to an agency is a smart way to get special attention as a client, McMahan said. In his capacity at Smartfish, he recently had to call a key client and beg off from an important meeting because of an event for a charity raising money for a disease affecting his daughter. He didn't mention the reason, but the client found out and sent a $1,000 check to the charity. “That's something I'm not likely to forget when working for this client,” McMahan said.

Be directly involved in the creative process. Insist that you have a seat at the table at brainstorming sessions involving the agency's creative staff. McMahan said you can save time and improve results by ensuring upfront that the message being crafted by the agency is consistent with your brand image and corporate sensibility.

Make sure you get the A Team. Do you trust your agency contacts to be committed to your brand? Do you believe they are going to deliver the best work the agency has to offer? If you aren't demanding and don't stay closely involved with the development of your campaign, he said, there's a good chance you won't get access to the agency's top creative minds.

Think with discipline, act with courage. Make sure that the message crafted for your brand by the agency is on strategy. But once you're assured of it, don't hold back. “Go for it. Don't be afraid to fail,” McMahan said. “You should hold 15% of your budget aside to experiment.” One client asked Smartfish to do an introductory campaign for a new product on a budget of $100,000. The agency made a video that went viral, but the client wouldn't commit additional budget to take advantage of the notoriety.

After a few months as an agency guy, McMahan remarked to his business partners how challenging some clients can be. “Boy, you guys must have felt lucky to have me as a client,” he told them.

“No Chris, you were the worst,” they responded. “We offered you the opportunity to come work with us so we wouldn't have to deal with you anymore.”

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