How Brands Deal with Agencies’ Sibling Rivalry

Vinit Patil is creative director at Box.com and Rudi Anggono is creative director at TBWA/Paris. You can pick their brains at hello@rentedmules.com.

If you are a client, the following situation may sound familiar. You have the elder child, the traditional. He’s been getting all the love, the big assignments. But sometime during his early adolescence, you decided he needed a younger sibling, digital. It was cute at first. Digital gave your elder child some company, just as you had hoped. Digital played with all the banner advertising and hand-me-down assets. Then digital started asking for more expensive toys like overarching strategy, big ideas and TV commercials. As a client, you now had to manage this sibling rivalry.

There is the easy way out: give timeouts and let the kids sort it out. But maybe you need to rethink your strategy.

Agencies may not want to collaborate for various reasons. They may not want people to peek behind their curtains to protect their business. Or they may not be savvy enough to understand that collaboration benefits every channel. Just like kids need to understand that the game becomes more fun when they share the legos, agencies need to need to get past their preconceived notions and work together to produce the best possible work for their clients.

Don’t play favorites. You may have an agency that you are more comfortable working with. (We all have our favorite child, don’t we?) And it may seem convenient to take one agency’s idea away to be executed by your favorite agency. This may fulfill a short-term goal, but it will create long-term resentment.

Just like when dealing with children, you may have preference for an agency’s ability to execute, but you must conduct yourself with transparency. If a digital agency has a TV idea but no TV experience, outline your concerns on why you think the traditional agency would be the best fit, but give them credit for coming up with the idea. This approach will pave the way for integration.

If the agencies have questions, they must feel comfortable talking to you without having to go through layers. Layers lead to inconsistent messages. Just like mom and dad need to have a united message on what time kids go to bed, everyone from the brand director to the CMO must agree on the campaign direction when they speak to any agency in their roster.

Be clear on your expectations. Outline what the agencies are supposed to deliver. You can’t say you want paradigm-changing work, knowing full well that the media for 30K banners has already been purchased — or that the budget is actually shrinking. You want to avoid a situation where everyone is bickering over a piece of the pie that doesn’t exist.

But even if you do everything right, bickering will happen. Sometimes it’s convenient to avoid the problem and let agencies sort it all out on their own. However, agencies look to clients to create a fair environment. When you sense friction, it’s better to iron things out before small problems escalate into tantrums. The goal should not be to assign blame, but to reach that predetermined goal decided earlier on during the process.

Sibling rivalry will never go away. Dealing with it is a constant learning process. And just when you think you were getting the hang of managing two siblings, a third one may come along — the social media agency. Then the fourth — the SEO agency. And if you aren’t careful, the fifth — the Google Adwords agency. Or the Pinterest agency. Going forward without a clear integration strategy is lot like asking your kids to draw different pieces of a horse and then piecing them together. It shouldn’t be a surprise if your horse ends up looking like an ass.

But if you need help, get it. Get a nanny who can help out so you can focus on the bigger marketing picture. Once the kids start playing nice, you can watch them enjoy themselves while you relax and sip on your integrated martini.

Image via Shutterstock