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Making your cross-agency team less cross

Back in the day, my agency used to be responsible for the total delivery of a below-the-line campaign. We came up with the concept, created the communication platform and ran the activation, making sure the consumer and the client were happy

Debbie Simmons: chairman of Incahoots

Debbie Simmons: chairman of Incahoots

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However, those days seen to be over as there is a growing trend for clients to draw their agencies together into a cross-agency team. Teams consist of agencies that know the brand well and work on the client’s business. The idea is that this team will create a seamless, multi-discipline campaign which relies on one core idea.

The theory – which on paper seems to be a good one – is that they happily work together in perfect harmony to produce amazing 360 campaigns. However, in my experience this is very rarely the case and the work produced is less than the sum of the parts.

If managed correctly, cross-agency teams can and do work very well. But it takes discipline, a fair-minded approach – and a firm lead from a really outstanding client.

So if you’re a client whose cross-agency team is starting to become a little cross and the ideas pitched back to you don’t measure up, here’s some advice from a cross-agency team veteran.

Eight golden rules for making cross-agencies less cross

  • Put all your agencies on a retainer and make sure that they know exactly what they’re going to be paid each year. This is how agencies fund the team working on your business and they too want a consistent team with brand knowledge. This can only happen if they know revenue streams over coming months.  
  • Be crystal clear which area of work each agency controls. If you’re not, problems will escalate rapidly. For example with a roadshow: is it activated by the PR or experiential agency?  Who designs the web communication for a promotion?  
  • Put your best person in charge of your cross-agency team. It needs a strong manager, someone who is at a high enough level to be a decision maker without recourse to others. Nothing aggravates agencies more than the thought that a junior member of staff is dealing with them and then having to wait weeks for decisions when they get passed up the line .Be commercially aware – time is money for the agencies and for you.
  • Never hand out a brief and tell agencies to coordinate between themselves and respond back. Who takes the lead?  What happens if they disagree over strategy? This is a lazy approach, hardly ever generates clear-sighted thinking and often results in more meetings, more time being wasted and unhappy agencies.
  • Be clear on budget split. Don't invite agencies who won't benefit financially – if you wouldn’t work for free, why should they?
  • Know exactly what your objectives are and make sure the team buys into them right from the start.  
  • Insist the team contains the best brains from your agencies and don't be afraid to support opinions from those outside of the ad agency planning department.
  • Make sure it’s an equal partnership. The one thing that always sinks cross-agency teams is inequality. Don’t fall into the trap of favouring the above-the-line agency. Make sure you treat everyone equally in terms of decisions, money and time.

Cross-agency teams don’t have to be cross. They can work and if you stick to these golden rules you will end up with a team that delivers outstanding results.

Debbie Simmons is chairman of Incahoots

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