How to Manage Inter-Agency Partnerships

Mark Wheat 6 days ago

Working with other agencies on a project or a long term basis may seem daunting. As well as maintaining good relations with a client, it's also important to do the same with any and all the other agencies involved in the process - which can make things complicated.

Successful collaboration is key in these instances - to ensure a positive working relationship and also, ultimately and perhaps most importantly, to achieve the best possible outcome for the client. So, if you are about to embark on your first inter-agency partnership what is the best way to manage this arrangement to achieve such results?

Firstly, let’s take a look at the term inter-agency. What is inter-agency working? This is an adjective which effectively means something with involvement from multiple agencies.

You may already be thinking about the pros and cons of inter-agency working. Why would you opt for multiple parties? The short answer is specialisms and expertise, but there may be several other factors which may equate to this outcome.

A successful large-scale project could be compared with renovating a house. Lots of different skills are required and you want to be assured each aspect is completed by an expert to prevent any unexpected surprises down the line. In an ideal world, you would not ask a decorator to rewire the electrics in the kitchen even if they did have some level of knowledge.

In terms of a digital project, working with a single agency may still result in multiple points of contact which is probably what people perceive as the negative of a multi-agency approach. There is then the risk that you lose out on the specialist knowledge of different agencies.

The main inter-agency practice which Zazzle Media is involved in is working with a separate web development/design agency who may be experts within a certain field or have strong existing relationships. Other instances might be two separate entities for PPC and organic search, and content creation and technical SEO.

Through our experience of inter-agency working we have developed an opinion on the best practice which should be followed to obtain optimum results for the client. To support this theory, we wanted to get the thoughts of a professional who has experience of managing these partnerships.

We asked the Head of Brand Marketing at Travel Republic, about why they prefer an inter-agency approach and if they had a golden rule for managing these partnerships.

Alison told us:

Inter-agency projects allow us to benefit from specialists across different fields to all contribute in the development of activity.

I prefer this way of working as I believe it can deliver the best, fully integrated results. Personal experience tells me that the best way to manage this is open communication lines and clear plans which everyone is brought into.

Making sure everyone has a personal relationship with each other if possible also helps with smooth and productive progress.

With all the above considered and lots of experience in mind, here are nine tips for how to manage inter-agency partnerships effectively and achieve the best results:

  • Choose wisely: The initial selection process is extremely important. Do the agencies have experience in working in this way? Are any reservations shown about inter-agency working? Making sure the correct agencies are selected from the start will ensure the journey ahead is as smooth as possible.
  • Personalise the relationships between the agencies as a priority: Get all the key personnel in a room as soon as possible. Building relationships here will help eliminate any potential psychological barriers which may exist. These potential barriers may impact the success of the planned work.
  • Eliminate any perceived hierarchy: Ultimately, everyone is working towards the same goal - the best results possible for the client. To achieve this everyone needs to be aligned. Although multiple services may be provided these are all equally important to overall success. This will also help the relationship between the various agencies.
  • Make sure the scope of the project and requirements of all agencies are clear: Clarity is key. This will act as a progress tracker throughout and make sure everyone is clear on the requirements and remains on track. As the project develops, if areas fall outside of scope make sure these are documented separately. Who is responsible for delivery of these and when are the deadlines? The agencies are likely to do this but make sure you keep your own record. There can be so many different areas to a project it is possible for things to be forgotten about or misunderstood. For an example of how this can be set out with deadlines and tasks, take a look at this collaborative project Gantt Chart template:

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  • Outline a detailed communications plan and make sure this is followed: Depending on the size of the project the level of communication may vary.
    A weekly call/meeting is a good guide for mid-large scale projects with additional communication around key milestones. Larger projects may require more regular communication around key phases where daily developments are taking place. In addition to this, weekly or daily update emails are a great way of tracking progress and highlighting any issues. These regular communications will help keep everyone focused on the common goal and identify any issues as early as possible.
  • Utilise video conferencing in the communications plan: With multiple parties involved, video conferencing is a great tool if a group meeting is not possible. This is more personal than conference call and provides greater transparency for the client. It also allows for screen sharing and a picture can speak more than a thousand words if a complex digital platform is involved.
  • Choose the correct Project Management tool: This will make your life a lot easier and provide visibility at any point on the status of various tasks and phases. If you are using one of the agency's current tools make sure you take the time to familiarise yourself and set up a training session if necessary. Make sure you find it user friendly and are able to extract the information you need. If you are suggesting a tool to use, have a look around. There are lots of demos available online. Try to find one which suits you but also covers all the requirements of the project.
  • Communicate with the agencies individually: This is useful as it may help you to identify any issues which might not be raised in the wider project communications. Ask questions. Are they happy with the progress and the collaboration with the other agency? Could anything be improved? This will help identify any concerns and make them feel valued.
  • Debrief: A detailed debrief on completion of a project can be informative and extremely education. It is important to get all parties together and talk about the positives and negatives of how everything unfolded. What went well and what specifically could have been improved upon and how? These learnings will not only help you with the management of future projects but will be thought-provoking for the agencies involved.

To summarise, inter-agency partnerships are of growing importance from a client perspective. They enable you to benefit from specialisms of different agencies and ultimately maximise results and learnings. An agile approach to working is key with regular communication. A non-iterative waterfall project management style can leave things disjointed and result in obstacles which could have been moved through regular progress updates and communication.

Providing all parties are brought in from the start of the project the management of it should be relatively seamless. This should be true even if changes of scope and direction present themselves on route to successful completion. With multiple parties involved, it is not always in the numbers where the strength lies but in the unity. Inevitably, it will be the strength of the unity which will achieve the optimum results.

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