What does a client need from an agency partner?

The below is based on an original post (Oct 2014):

Here are my top 8 qualities (in no particular order) required for a consultancy or agency to best support pharma marketing teams. Despite the passage of time these all feel just as relevant today, however I am interested in any contrary thoughts or indeed qualities I have missed.

1) A partner that is willing to be stretched

A good pharma marketer will contribute ideas and be willing to do things differently, move faster or take a more extreme path in order to be successful. As a client I responded positively when agencies came back to my challenges with fresh ideas and were willing to enhance their offering. I was less positive when agencies came back with the same dogmatic ideas and templated approach that had blatantly been rolled out to previous clients.

2) A partner that attempts to stretch their client

No matter how good you think your idea is as a client, a competent agency should provide fresh thinking and ideas. They should also be prepared to challenge you to take risks in order to make the final product even better. As a client you still need your agency to help minimise these risks and maximise ‘rewards’. The ‘stretching’ clearly needs to be centred on improving the project rather than a self serving ‘upsell’ of more products and services

3) Good collaboration with other agencies

It is rare for 1 agency to do everything for 1 brand. Joint working with other agencies is the norm. As a brand manager it made my life so much easier to have the various agencies working smoothly towards the same goal rather than having to align a bunch of self-entitled primadonnas.

4) Be a link of continuity for the brand

Brand managers come and go, an incumbent agency can provide great support to a new marketing manager by sharing their knowledge and experience. It is important that this process is two way and the incumbent agency listens to the ideas and needs of the new guy. I unfortunately fell out terminally with one particular agency for persistently pushing their own views in a rather high handed way.

5) Be responsive

An agency can have great ideas and do great work but this is undone if the client can’t reach them. I felt frustrated as a client, when an otherwise good partner would not pick up the phone and was slow to return calls. It can be hard to manage multiple clients but no one wants to feel like they are bottom of the food chain, especially when they are paying for a premium service.

6) Attention to detail

As a marketing guy I have seen what I thought were fantastic pieces of agency work undone by a very small number of typos and grammatical errors. This attention to detail is a ‘hygiene factor’ that if not present at the foundation, will ensure all great concepts and ideas come tumbling down.

7) Meet deadlines

Obvious right? Of course work needs to be planned so it hits clients deadlines with time to spare. As a marketing manager it was embarrassing to announce at a company conference, that I could not present the latest working version of a project, rather just some boring screenshots of what it would eventually look like when the agency got around to finishing it. It is of course a partnership and often client processes can increase the risk of a delay. It is up to the agency to hold the client accountable and highlight when their activities or more likely inactivity is holding things up.

8) Understand my needs before the business needs

All marketing managers should be focused on their customers, i.e. the patients and the doctors and of course what is best for the business. However we are human therefore also have our own personal needs. They could be personal development, developing expertise in an area, a fun approach to working, external and internal recognition or something else entirely. An agency absolutely must know what drives their client on a personal level. The agency can deliver projects that smash every business KPI but if they neglect the clients personal needs then they have failed.

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