Top tips to get the best from your agency - part 3

Written by
Gill McLellan
June 16, 2013

Tip three: lead the project

So you’ve decided what you want. And you’ve briefed your agency well. Now we can get down to the intensive project management phase. You need to take personal responsibility to pro-actively manage your project. Do not allow your agency or colleagues to drift off track. Take your project firmly by the scruff of its neck and manage the hell out of it.

C’mon everybody

First of all, be very aware that this project may be the most important thing you’re currently working on. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this also applies to everyone who’s involved. You can clear your desk to review second artwork at an hour’s notice but your fundraising director probably can’t – even if she wanted to. So be aware of the differing attitudes other people involved may have.

Altogether now

Furthermore, because charities like to be inclusive in their approach to campaigns, lots of people are likely to be involved. In particular, people from outside your team will often be asked to approve the work being developed. This can be an advantage as you’ll get the benefit of many points of view from across the organisation.

But a major disadvantage is that you’ll get many points of view from across the organisation. Often these comments are from people who find it hard to remain objective. Because you’re a nice person (and maybe because these subjective comments are from your bosses) you act on them and the creative work is inevitably watered down.

Respect yourself

If you try to keep everyone happy then anything that doesn’t cause a row suddenly seems like a good idea. When you ask your agency to make unjustifiable changes it weakens the creative work. And it de-motivates your agency. Your best chance of surviving wide inclusivity with the quality of work intact is to manage others’ involvement extremely carefully. Prevent problems by being prescriptive when you ask for feedback. Tell each person exactly what they’re being asked to comment upon. So service delivery is invited to comment on factual accuracy of the case study. For the policy team, it’s specifically whether the work reflects the organisation’s policy. The brand team should consider the implementation of brand guidelines. Supporter services will comment on how they think supporters will perceive the communication (i.e. if confusion or complaints will arise). I would even go so far as to state you are asking for ‘feedback’ or ‘comments’ not ‘approval’. Approval implies that people can hold up a project or insist on changes being made. For most people outside your team, this is misleading. Try to avoid giving others implied control over your project.

Ridiculous thoughts

If someone chooses to comment on areas outside those you have clearly specified, I think you can then justifiably discount the fact that they ‘don’t like that word’ or they want the picture to be bigger etc.

Thank you

Be polite with subjective and uninvited comments. As a matter of courtesy, I would explain why you’re not acting on a particular comment. It lets someone know you have not merely missed or ignored it. If you are working repeatedly with the same people, they’ll learn why you do certain things. You could even set up a short training session on how to review creative work (which you could ask your agency to run). This should help people avoid subjectivity.

Express yourself

So if you disagree with a comment – for a justifiable reason – stand your ground. If you believe in the work (which you should before you share it around) then you must stand up for it. You are responsible for selling the work to the rest of your organisation. If it’s an important project, ask your creative team and/or account handler to present it with you.

Leaders of men

It can be hard to keep senior managers on track – especially if they don’t have a marketing experience. It’s good if you can steer them towards commenting only on general strategy, tone and positioning. It is a waste of their valuable time to pick over creative in detail. Try to coach them into knowing it’s not their job to worry about individual words and pictures. They have you for that.

How soon is now?

As well as confining feedback to specific areas of expertise, you must be clear about the deadlines. If possible, tell people in advance when creative will be available to them. This makes it even more important that you keep the project on schedule.

Time is on my side

It is difficult to hold your agency to their timings if you miss your deadlines for feeding back to them. If you are running late (or are likely to do so) tell your agency as soon as possible. They may be able to shuffle around other work to stick to the original schedule. But you must ask about this. Don’t automatically expect them to turn around their side of things faster to make up for your missed deadlines.

And a final checklist

  • Keep on top of the project at all times.
  • Be clear exactly what feedback you require from colleagues (and by when).
  • Believe in the work and stand up for it.
  • Stick to timings and keep the agency informed if things are going to slip.

About the author: Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan

Gill McLellan is a senior planner with Tangible, an integrated marketing agency. Previously she has worked for some of the UK’s biggest charities and has worked as an account handler and planner on the agency-side. She also spent four months volunteering for Raleigh International in Borneo.

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