One of the key roles of brand marketers these days is to select and work with agency partners.

Yet how best to manage agency relationships is seldom discussed, leaving most client-side marketers to figure it out for themselves.

To shed some light on this topic, we asked Hari Shankar (Ecselis Asia), a veteran of both brands and agencies, to speak about how brands can have more productive relationships with agencies at a recent Econsultancy event in Singapore.

During his talk, Hari shared many insights about how brand marketers should both choose their agency partners and work with them on an ongoing basis. Below is a summary of his main points.

1) Write a well-crafted request for proposal (RFP)

The best client-agency relationships always start with the brand side delivering a request for proposal which is: 

  • Clear: Avoid using company or industry acronyms and state overall objectives
  • Bounded: The roles for both the agency and the brand marketers should be included
  • Realistic: Delivery times and goals need to be evaluated sensibly before asking for quotes 

Also, the RFP should include long-term goals of the brand so that everyone understands the big picture behind the work that needs to be done. (For more advice on how to write an RFP, be sure to refer to Econsultancy's RFP templates.)

2) Select your agency objectively, quantitatively, and qualitatively

Evaluating agencies should be carried out on an objective, quantitative and qualitative basis.

Objective in the sense that there should not be favourites when you start the selection procedure. Keep the selection team small and of relatively equal status in the company so that you may avoid this issue.

Quantitative in that you ask for a quote and evaluate the agencies based on their response. Keep 'procurement wolves' from driving down the agency's price before you have even started.  Procurement departments are very good at buying physical inventory, but may squeeze the 'human inventory' of agencies too much.

And finally, select your future agency partner qualitatively so that you are choosing the one which fits your needs. If they specialise in digital don't push them to deliver omnichannel. If they are known for being creative, then find another agency to do your media buying.

3) Keep both the scope and performance metrics simple 

Once an agency is selected and the commercial terms defined, it should be clear to both sides 

A) what the agency is aiming to accomplish for the brand;

B) how everyone will know if they are successful.

The best way to do this, according to Hari, is to keep things simple. Brands should avoid having too many people involved in setting the scope and draw a roadmap for success from the outset.

This way both sides know what the expected outcomes are and whether or not the targets are being hit.

Too often, explained Hari, each brand marketer throws their own objectives into an ill-defined strategy and neither the agency nor the marketer managing the relationship understands overall performance.

4) Run a tight ship at both the agency and the brand side

If the brand marketers can set well-defined goals and success metrics at the start, then they need to strive to keep things simple on an ongoing basis.

To do so, they should: 

  • Have a clear line of communication: Assign people on each side who will be responsible for keeping people accountable and results measurable
  • Avoid unnecessary meetings: Agencies provide more value when they spend less time in meetings
  • Establish a sensible reporting process: If there are too few reports, then the brand-side marketers will feel like they are being kept in the dark. But, Hari noted, having too many reports puts you in the same place, only the agency will be spending more time putting together charts and graphs than doing the work they are being paid for. 

So, overall, for brands and agencies to work well together both sides need to minimize the fluff and maximize the action. Cutting down on all unnecessary and time-consuming processes will make the relationship work better for everyone.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank Hari Shankar, Managing Director, Ecselis Asia & Head of Paid Digital Strategy at Havas Media Group for his insights on how brands and agencies can work together more productively.

We'd also like to thank all of the marketers who attended the presentation and helped with this post by asking many intelligent questions.

We hope to see you all at future Econsultancy events!

Jeff Rajeck

Published 9 November, 2017 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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Comments (4)


Tom Barker, Head of Digital at National TrustEnterprise

Thanks for the article. Having worked both agency and client-side I think that there are several other very important factors to consider:

- Don't play your agencies off against each other. It doesn't foster an air of competitiveness, but rather one of antagonism and resentment. Clients need to set clear rules and be prepared to umpire, too - otherwise they'll be the ones who ultimately suffer re the quality of the product
- Pay a fair price for a fair service. Constant requests for scope creep aren't clever, they just piss good people off over time. Agencies aren't charities, so be prepared to pay them for their time - it's basic manners
- Be the client that people want to work for. In every agency the staff know which are their good, bad and indifferent clients. Similarly there are people of differing abilities agency-side too and the better people tend to end up working on the 'better' accounts. You should always be thinking what you can be doing to make the best and brightest want to be on your team...

9 months ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Thanks Tom, great points.

Hari did emphasize that procurement can squeeze the life out of a project and from what you say I can see how that works.

Why would the top talent at an agency gravitate to the stingiest customers, indeed!

9 months ago


Hari Shankar, MD Asia, Ecselis & Head of Paid digital at Havas Media

Thanks Tom. Indeed there are a plethora of points I had touched upon in the session especially on the type of client that one wants to be - a very important aspect. It doesn't help at all to be a client who has any or all of these qualities - superiority complex/ego, impatience, resistance to change emanating partially from ignorance and partially from a stubborn & closed mind, lack of enthusiasm or passion to what one does (because it is just another time pass job) - as all it does is for the team that works with such a person to be uninspired & in turn lack lustre in terms of output. Then there are orgs that give inspiring & ambitious briefs to the agency and after a colossal amount of ideas have been put together, methodically shoot down almost all ideas (except probably the cheapest) quoting some reason or the other that have no quantitative or data-driven rationale grounds whatsoever. In short, a client needs to be inspiring yet humble, knowledgeable yet open to learning, macro yet micro, collaborative yet challenging and finally treat the agency truly as an extended marketing arm. I could go on and on but being a vast topic, I had touched upon most of it verbatim rather than write it down on slides which is probably why the article doesn't get into to details.

9 months ago


mahendra JOSHI, No.1 Astrologer at astrologer

Hi, very good article.
Thank for sharing keep up the good work

17 days ago

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