For many good reasons, partnering with an outside agency makes all the sense in the world. The most obvious being your team is at or over capacity with current work and a project has come up with a deadline that you know you won’t be able to meet. Or, in trying to meet the deadline, you will be delivering less than your best effort. Another reason might be that you have a project that requires special knowledge or expertise that you don’t have within your in-house group.
When partnering, there are challenges you are inevitably going to face both internally and externally.
The first, and most obvious challenge, is budgetary. It costs money to partner with an outside agency, possibly a lot of money depending on whom you are talking to. Your management will likely want to know why they should pony up the additional funds. You want to think carefully how you answer that question, so you don’t cast aspersions on your own department. Of course, expectations will likely be higher for work from an outside agency. It needs to be good, and delivered in a way that is better than what your team would have been able to deliver, to justify the spending. And to justify your judgment.
Secondly, I’ve seen morale take a hit, because no matter how you couch the need to go outside, some of your staff will think it’s a vote of no-confidence, especially if it’s a large-budget project. The feeling that the internal team is suddenly the second string is a real likelihood. This sentiment only grows when managers are suddenly unavailable because of time spent with the outside agency. It is important to ensure that your internal team understands the need for the agency, and feels that their time, effort, and input are still valued.
Control, or lack thereof, is the first challenge when dealing with an agency. These aren’t your people and you aren’t going to be able to manage day-to-day activity. One thing I insist on knowing before I sign anyone up is knowing who the team is that will be working on my project. Agencies are famous for having the big shots and/or hotshots in the initial meeting, and then assigning the project, depending on its size and creative potential, to more junior people.
Further, these are people who likely work on many other brands and will be only somewhat familiar with what your brand personality and mandatories are. That makes a good brief with appropriate support materials especially critical. Having concrete budgetary restrictions and a rock-solid deliverables timeline are immensely important items within a brief. But, be smart about what and how much you share. No one likes a “data dump.” From experience, I can tell you volumes of background materials are seldom read thoroughly, so be judicious and only share what you need to.
In summary, you need to manage the internal situation just as carefully as you manage your outside agency. It certainly can be a win-win, but it’s not an automatic by any stretch.
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