“On-Boarding For More Productive Agency Relationships” by Arthur Anderson, MarketingDaily

Published May 8, 2009

During tough economic times, the marketer-agency lexicon is increasingly about “streamlining,” “savings” and “efficiency.” Meanwhile, “collaboration,” “effectiveness” and “value” often take a back seat. Balancing the former (Yin) with the latter (Yang) is wise. Absence of balance is shortsighted, if not reckless.

Balancing fiscal stewardship equally with attitudes and behaviors that embrace value and collaboration (not to mention trust) becomes even more important during difficult times when everything – dollars, people, time invested – must work harder, better and smarter. Seeking this elegant balance differentiates marketers whose brands are strong, enduring and successful from those whose perspective and vision are focused only on the immediate short-term gain of dollars, cents and metrics.

“On-Boarding” is a performance management tool to ensure that both client and agency achieve efficiency and productivity in their work practices, management processes and guidelines for the partnership. On-boarding opens a “dialogue” that supports transparency and a mutual understanding and agreement on critical strategic initiatives, priorities, plans and respective issues/needs. It is, above all, a communications tool, and we’re all in the communications business and should know how to do this. How interesting it is, however, that we are not always the best communicators amongst ourselves and our partners, although we are with our external target audiences and business stakeholders.

The On-Boarding process is a solution. The benefits are best found at the outset of a new year with an existing agency, to re-set an existing relationship if it seems to be getting off track, or with a new client-agency relationship at the very inception of the partnership. At its essence, it is a diagnostic and communications tool. One irony is that the longer an agency relationship has existed, the more important is on-boarding. That’s because fissures and inefficiencies that have become embedded in the relationship over long periods of time are not easily observed and, therefore, seldom self-correct.

On-boarding is a facilitated process with key client and key agency stakeholders participating. It takes place best at a round table as opposed to across a rectangular one. It need not take long-a single day can often be enough.

The objectives of on-boarding are:

1) To allow the voices from both the client and the agency to be heard on “what is working” and “not working” in the relationship.

2) To surface “same understanding” on key issues in the forthcoming period, whether it be work practices, scope of work, staffing plan, management processes, 360-degree evaluation, etc.

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‘On-Boarding’ For More Productive Agency Relationships
by Arthur Anderson, May 8, 2009

3) To resolve gaps, conflicts and misunderstandings with reliable facts, unbiased opinions and actionable solutions that are agreed upon or negotiated by client and agency.

4) To establish formalized “partnership guidelines” (whether the relationship is with a new or existing agency), which include clearly defined roles, responsibilities, near- and long-term strategic initiatives and related action plans and the hierarchy of responsibilities.

5) To come to mutual agreement and closure on the single strategic imperative for the brand.

Critical to achieving equitable agency compensation, incentive frameworks and fair metrics for measurement of performance is the ability to dialogue with candor, transparency, mutual respect and understanding. While these are well-worn words, today they hold more importance and weight than they have for many years. Dialogue is communication. And an open, clear channel of communication is the one factor that leads to resolution, solution and results. All the rest falls in lock-step behind this classic leader.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a four-part series.

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