As your business grows and your projects become more ambitious there are three primary ways in which you can manage your workload:
- You can keep everything in-house
- You can use a single agency with a variety of skills
- You can use multiple agencies, each with a specific expertise
But how do you know which option is best for you?
This decision can be based on scale of work, big plans for the future or even just your business type itself. For example, a start-up business who want to keep overhead costs down may keep everything in-house or use a single agency who have all the skills required, whereas a large-scale business who have lots of different projects running at once may choose to employ multiple agencies.
Whichever you choose, it needs to be the right decision for you; a wrong choice can lead to a lack of specific expertise for your project, or even a lot of different agencies who don’t get along or become territorial.
It’s true employing multiple agencies can be noisy, but there are benefits to using them. At Liquid Light we have had the experience of working with several agencies on various projects, so how do you make it work to get the best out of your agencies?
For any group working together, the key to success is transparency. It’s important that your agencies are comfortable with each other and eager to share their skills and expertise to reach the common goal. Being territorial over work will only lead to a delay in productivity and mistakes which can push a project back even further. Make sure you convey this expectation to your agencies from the beginning and throughout, but also praise good teamwork when deserved to maintain a positive environment.
Having worked as part of a multiple agency conglomerate, one way in which we remain transparent is to arrange regular meetings with the client where all agencies are involved. This way we are encouraged to speak openly in a friendly environment and share our progress on the project. This is preceded by a status report submitted by each agency on a shared drive, so others can see where they are with different elements of the project and bring this up in the agency call if needed.
We also include each other in any relevant emails that are sent to the client or otherwise, so everyone is kept in the loop and the client can overview the project effectively. One thing to bare in mind with this however is that with too many people involved it can sometimes be a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ scenario and the productivity of a task can be slowed down. In this instance don’t be afraid to encourage your agencies to communicate without client input for smaller decisions.
Using your skill set
Although a single agency can have all the roles you desire they may not necessarily have the exact skill sets you need to complete your project in the most effective manner. This is where working with multiple agencies is of great benefit, as you can choose each agency based on their area of expertise.
It is important that your agencies of choice understand that they will be expected to share their skills with other agencies who do not possess them and, in turn, they too must be willing to learn the skills they do not have.
For example, if you have a design agency and a copywriting agency who are creating a print campaign, it is vital for the design agency to listen to the copywriters to create the right design around their content and for the copywriter to listen to the design agency to create that content to the design. By working together it is the only way they can create the most memorable campaign to convey your message.
Processes & Reporting
When dealing with single or multiple agencies, conveying your expectations from day one is imperative and an efficient way to ensure these are met are with clearly defined processes and regular reporting.
One process we have found to be vital from an agency perspective is a detailed plan of how sign off is achieved. This needs to be crystal clear before a project is undertaken to avoid wasted time and cost for your business. This was circulated as a document that could be referred back to, but can also be communicated verbally or via email.
Other processes you could define are:
- Briefing - Creating a clear process at the start of each project to ensure the right tasks are delegated to the right team and there is no crossover.
- Communication - Define group email addresses and who needs to be included in what communication.
- Meetings - Set specific days for a regular meeting or catch-up call
With regular reporting, there are many benefits to both agency and client. As an agency it allows you to see the progress of other agencies and their next steps, which is very useful if you are waiting for them to finish up something before you can get started. Whereas as a client it gives you a fantastic overview of the progress of your project and allows you to identify any pitfalls and nip them in the bud before they become an issue.
Use a helpful tool
There are many great tools available to help you manage your agency relationships and work load, but here are some we’ve found the best:
- Trello - Trello is a free card-based task management system and is a great tool to help break down the specifics of each project and assign different tasks to your agencies. It gives you the option to create separate boards for different projects, on which you can create cards for your tasks and move them through lists as their status changes. This is perfect for overseeing several different projects at the same time and is an effective way to encourage transparency and teamwork between your agencies.
- Slack - Slack is free team-messenger tool that we use at Liquid Light to help improve our team productivity and transparency. With the ability to create channels to get the whole team involved it’s perfect if your agencies are located far away, as it is a great alternative to meetings and a lot quicker then pinging emails back and forth. It also allows you to share files easily and create private channels for only a few chosen people, which is ideal if you only wanted to address one agency from your team.
- ActiveCollab - ActiveCollab is another Liquid Light favourite and a great task management tool for integrating process into your workload. Alongside the ability to add assignees to your tasks, upload files and comments and place these tasks into their own project, you can control the visibility of those projects and set specific due dates. This is a great tool to keep your tasks on track and communicate these expectations to your agencies. One particularly unique thing about ActiveCollab is, unlike other management tools, ActiveCollab is a specific app that sits on your server, which means you are hosting this yourself. This means everything is stored on your server, so it can be considered a ‘safer’ option. Although not free, ActiveCollab offers a free 30-day trial so you can try before you commit.
- Basecamp - Basecamp is a web-based project management tool with an ability for unlimited projects. With a fresh new look just launched, Basecamp offers some great new features alongside the classic project management tools, including the ability to ‘ping’ (direct message) your colleagues, set date ranges and multiple assignees, download reports and, similar to slack, chat as a group in built-in team messenger Campfire. It also has an app for Android and IOS, so it’s perfect if you are always on the go! Like ActiveCollab, Basecamp is not free for group-use, however every person qualifies for one free unlimited Basecamp account. So, with no end-date specified, you can take you time testing out the tool to see if it’s the right one for you.
- Zendesk - Although traditionally a customer service tool, Zendesk can be used as a platform for monitoring multiple tasks at one time. Each task can be represented by a ticket which is raised to a group or certain individuals, on which all can comment with their thoughts. This is fantastic as it displays the history of the ticket as a log, so you can keep on track. Alongside agency-to-agency communication it is also good if you are all dealing with requests that cross-over, so for example requests from Regional Managers that may apply to both a design agency and marketing agency. The only downsides to Zendesk is it does come at a cost and it can feel a little impersonal, but for larger companies with a lot of people to manage it can be the perfect tool.
The choice is yours
Using multiple agencies can be a challenge, but if dealt with in the correct way it is an effective method to produce a great creative force for your brand. So let’s round up with some pros and cons of employing multiple agencies:
- You have a plethora of specialised expertise available
- More agencies means more cost, so a bigger budget is required
- With more people on board your brand has the opportunity to reach a wider audience
- Relationship management is needed throughout
Most of all, remember multiple agencies may not be the right move for your business so think carefully before diving in and make the right choice for you.