A Proven Recipe for Successful Client-Agency Relationships

There are two things you should know about me. Firstly, I have worked at Venn for over 3 years. In agency years that may as well be 15! I have worked with a number of clients on an even bigger number of integrated marketing campaigns. I have seen campaigns that have been successful and others that could have been, if only everyone was working to the same recipe.

The second thing you should know is that I’m an avid baker. Full disclosure: This post is going to be filled with baking analogies. By the end of it you will either be ready for your next successful campaign or really hungry.

Client-agency relationships can be complicated. When there are big budgets and even bigger expectations, that’s entirely natural. Much like being in the kitchen (don’t say I didn’t warn you) things can get heated, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing—it can be positive and exciting.

Having forged relationships with a host of clients in a range of sectors, I’ve noticed the elements that encourage good results. In my experience, successful campaigns and partnerships always involve the six steps below. I guess you could say this is my recipe for success.

1: Knowing your brand

How long have you worked at your company for? 1 year? 5? 10? However long it is, you’ve worked there longer than your agency has and you’d be surprised at the wealth of knowledge you hold. Your agency is there to be an extension of your marketing team, so make sure they fully understand who you are as a business and what you’re looking to achieve.

At the start of a relationship, your agency should be able to spend anywhere from a morning to a full day with your business and the people working on your campaign. It’s also a good idea to involve key stakeholders from your business—they may not be a part of the marketing department but they will know the business vision (directors) or be the day-to-day contact for your clients/consumers (sales staff).

The more information the agency can gain at the beginning, the better the campaign will be. Some of the basics you should cover in your brand immersion session are short and long term business aims, marketing objectives and background information about your company.

Simply, this introductory session is the reading of the recipe and making sure you have all of the ingredients. Ensuring that everyone is on board with what you’re working towards, the roles that they will be playing, the time of delivery and what will be deemed a success.

2: Playing to your strengths

Creative agencies are there to reinforce your existing marketing efforts, not to replace them. There should be clearly defined roles between your team and your agency and everyone should play to their strengths. Internal staff shouldn’t feel threatened or undermined, they should feel supported.

To help this, I recommend finding out all of the services your agency offers. This way you can make an informed decision as to where you require support and where you don’t. You may for example have a really strong copywriting team but no in-house designers. You may just be one marketing manager and need help executing your strategy. You may have a full team around you but need help with strategy and planning.

If your pantry contains flour, sugar, baking powder and butter, you better tell your agency to bring their eggs.

If you inform your agency about your strengths and know all of their services, they help out wherever you need assistance most.

3: Clearly defining success

Marketing can be a complicated business. We have more tools to play with than ever before and that means more information and metrics. Knowing which figures to target and measure is central to a successful campaign.

If I’m going to bake a chocolate cake, my definition of success is going to be a moist sponge and a buttercream centre, all pulled together with the perfect fudge topping. That’s my end goal and the individual aspects that contribute to it.

But how do I make sure that along the way everyone helping with the baking of the cake achieves this? By setting Key Performance Indicators.

For my cake this would be setting expectations for once the oven pings. How much has it risen? How does it taste? For campaigns, this could be impressions, conversions rates, cost per lead or a host of other options. So long as, at the end of the work, you can tell if you’ve achieved what you set out to do.

Make sure you work with your agency to set clear marketing objectives that will help you meet your goals, then set KPIs that will show clearly how close you are to achieving your objectives.

4: Processes and planning

I have deliberately put processes before planning as I firmly believe this is something that can make or break a successful campaign. Each and every company I’ve ever worked with has had different internal sign off processes, and I’m sure if you’ve worked with a number of agencies their internal processes have differed in some way too.

While this should naturally occur at the discovery phase, it’s crucial to dedicate some time into finding out how your agency works. How far in advance does their design schedule go? What’s the structure of their internal teams? Do you deal with an account manager or directly with different departments? Each of these factors will change how you plan a campaign, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with processes at the beginning.

Vice versa, tell your agency how things work at your end. Do you need to report to stake holders? Have strict internal sign off processes? Any agency worth their salt will accommodate for this in the campaign plan.

When everyone is clear on who your brand is, what your strengths are, what is deemed a success and the processes, it’s time to get planning.

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Again, from my experience the campaigns that are most successful are those that are well planned. If I’m baking a last-minute cake (usually because I’ve forgotten somebody’s birthday) I will be rushing, not have anybody around to help and will have scraped together whatever ingredients I had in. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t taste great—it’s unlikely to be a success.

It’s the same with marketing. Yes, sometimes it can be reactive and work really well. However, most of the campaigns that look reactive have actually been planned for months, if not years, as it allows for better budgeting, allocated resource and on time delivery.

All agencies will be flexible or reactive where required, but thinking in advance will help you to meet long-term business objectives. If your business doesn’t have any long-term plans, let your agency know and they can arrange sessions with your key stakeholders to get everyone thinking ahead. 

5: Providing the perfect brief

Sometimes, you just know exactly what sort of cake you want. Whether it’s a pastry or a sponge (or, you know, a web project or social campaign) if you know what you want you need to communicate it clearly. For an agency, this means pulling together a tight brief that contains your idea, the objectives, the desired outcomes and every essential detail.

Imagine if all you fancied was a light Victoria Sponge but you didn’t communicate this and, after waiting patiently, your agency presented you with a decadent Chocolate Fudge cake. They’d think they’d done an amazing job, but it’s just not what you wanted. A clear brief, however, ensures the completed work will meet your expectations.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want however, agencies love to be creative. You should still pull a brief together, but this time it should cover your objectives, who your audience are and what you’re looking to achieve. From this, your agency can provide you with a range of ideas to help you accomplish exactly what you want.

6: Picking their brains

While the above points all contribute towards successful campaigns, this one is more concerned with forming a strong relationship.

Every agency will have many dedicated professionals in different specialist fields. The people who work within agencies are consumed in the world of digital, branding, creative etc. We’re passionate about what we do and are exposed to a range of campaigns and training. So, whether or not your campaign is underway, it never hurts to use this knowledge.

If I’m looking for cake-spiration, I turn to Mary Berry or Nigella. They have years of experience and teams of people around them. They’ve experienced success and learned from failure. They have the recipes, the advice and a wealth of knowledge. They’ve been there and they’ve done it.

They’re a lot like a marketing agency.

I believe that a lasting relationship between a client and an agency is far more likely to come when the partnership involves mutual sharing and discussion. Better yet, there’s no downside. Just don’t let your quest for knowledge distract from your actual campaigns!


If you follow these steps you’re well on the way to making the partnership between you and your agency a successful one. If you’re following the same recipe and working towards the same goal, there’s no reason why you can’t both enjoy the end result, and everybody knows that’s the best bit.

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