I often get questions about how to manage outside agency relationships effectively. Surprisingly, the issues are often unrelated to the agency and are sometimes a result of in-house team road blocks. In other words, people are asking me: "How am I supposed to work with an agency when I'm not even aware of what's going on?"
I think the biggest mistake an inHOWser can do is sit back and assume that your boss and or company knows that you need to be involved with this stuff. Though you may have a fancy title like "Art Director," you may still be viewed as a "doer who makes everything pretty" rather than a decision-maker. This is not intentionally condescending, as frustrating as it may be. As your management sees it, they hired you to elevate the look (or voice, if you're a copywriter) of the brand. As long as you continue to do that, you're doing your job well.
If you truly want to be operating as a senior-level creative, it becomes your responsibility to assert yourself. If you do not currently have weekly status meetings with your boss, request them. When on these calls or in these meetings:
- You can ask to be involved with the advertising agency process outright.
- If your company is about to go in to the agency selection process, you can do some research on your own and present it. Show initiative and explain the type of agency you'd like to work with. Then, ask to be involved with the selection process from then on.
If, for some reason, you get very little face time with your boss and are unable to do status meetings, your annual performance review is also a good opportunity to discuss leadership and agency involvement. I've found that surfing some of the job sites like Talentzoo, as well as industry-related sites like AIGA or AAF will give you some good content to pull from. I recommend grabbing job descriptions from these sites to show your boss which responsibilities people in similar positions to yours have. They should see that Sr.Designers, Art Directors, and Copywriters have responsibilities that steer the look and feel of the brand. Therefore, if someone other than yourself is going to be doing the creative, you at least need to be involved in order to fulfill the duties your job requires.
For those who get shut out by their agencies, the key to success is setting expectations. Don't just randomly call them and expect them to drop everything to meet your needs at that second. You are most likely not your agency's only client. Like you, they are fielding design requests, emails and phone calls all day long. So, show them some courtesy and clearly set expectations. Do make sure that you (or one of your superiors, if necessary) schedules a weekly or bi-weekly status meeting with the agency. If they know they are expected at 11:00 a.m. every Monday or whatever, they will show up. Don't forget - you guys are the ones that pay their bills!
Lastly, whether you are taking the initiative with your own team or with the outside agency, remember one thing: document, document, DOCUMENT! Always keep a paper trail of your proactive efforts. You can use these as ammo in future meetings and reviews to show your persistence and passion for your job. If all else fails, use this as a tool of reflection. If all of these efforts do not pay off and that documentation proves it, your permission to search for another job just may be in writing.
Hopefully these tips will help you muscle your way in to greater involvement with your outside agency. What issues have you encountered in working with outside agencies? What methods have helped you "get in" with your agency?
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Shannon Stull Carrus is a principal and Creative Director at WHOISCARRUS, a full-service Orlando advertising agency. She has experience on both agency and in-house teams in various roles, including; copywriting, art direction, and creative direction. In her spare time, she is working on a new time-tracking software for the staffing industry called ClikClok.