Making Your Agency an Extension of Your Team
  • Season 2
  • Episode 2

Randall and Jessica are talking best practices to make an agency an extension of your in-house team. If you want a true partnership and a collaborative relationship, you can’t keep your agency at arm’s length. Instead, you need to keep them in the loop like another department in the organization.


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Jessica & Randall Hughes
Viscul / Fork & Lens

Quote from Randall Hughes
“I think being able to connect with a group that understands your brand from the inside out and can really be a big part of your team, and treating them like team members- you can get really good results out of them but also it becomes something where they’re watching out for your brand as much as you are.


Jessica Hughes: 00:00 Hello, hello. It’s Randall and Jess today. We are talking today about making agencies an extension of your internal team. As we know, most in house marketing teams don’t have the personnel to complete every single aspect of their marketing projects, and so they outsource, which is totally logical. But effectively managing these outside relationships for all the niche specialties that exist in the current and future marketing landscape can be overwhelming. And it should be treated as an asset, an extension of your current in house team, rather than just more extra people to manage and being a headache.

Randall Hughes: 00:44 Yeah. I think being able to connect with a group that understands your brand from the inside out and can really be a big part of your team and treating them like team members, I think you can get really good results out of them. But also, it does become something where they’re watching out for your brand as much as you are.

Jessica Hughes: 01:23 Right. And oftentimes, as Randall just alluded to, these relationships are viewed as vendor relationships. But maybe you need to stop and look at how your partnerships with these different agencies or freelancers are evolving as much as you are. Do an honest assessment of who your vendors are and what they’re currently bringing to the table. Research what other services that they may offer that you’re not taking advantage of is a good one. Determine if there’s any services that they provide that are better suited for your in house team.

Randall Hughes: 01:23 Right.

Jessica Hughes: 02:02 Right. Identify any needs that you have that aren’t being met or that may require a new vendor. And also, doing an evaluation periodically and be mindful of your agency partner’s business trajectories, because you want to make sure that you’re all moving in the right direction together, and they’re not going after something that may not be your focus anymore.

Randall Hughes: 02:25 Yeah. And sometimes, depending on what the relationship is, you could also push them to add services that maybe your company needs and you know that they could perform them. And if they’re willing to do that, they can just be another extension of what your need is, and be able to do that with people that you know and trust that can get the job done.

Jessica Hughes: 02:44 Yeah. When I think about agency relationships, or even freelance relationships, you want partners who are invested in the brand as much as you are, and that are looking out for your wellbeing in terms of the brand. But at the same time, you need to be able to articulate to them what those things are to bring them along for the ride. And I think that’s an important element of this.

Randall Hughes: 03:11 Yeah, absolutely. I think being able to connect them as you continue on, as you have changes in things in your business, or if there’s things that come up, those agencies and the people that you’re working so closely with, they need to feel a part of those changes, and connected to that in some way so that they can take ownership of it as well, just as much as your internal team can. And like I said before, they can really help to steer it in the right direction and give honest, real feedback.

I think that’s something that, when an agency works with a new company, it can be hard to give honest feedback because you want to feel out the relationship and see how it goes and keep building from there. But when you’ve taken the time to really get to know and have a good relationship with the agency, whether it’s a freelancer or a big agency or whatever, you can build trust with them in a way where they’re not going to BS you. And if you’re doing something a little weird with the brand or maybe they don’t agree, then you can at least have an open discussion. It doesn’t mean that they’re always going to be right or you’re always going to be wrong or anything like that.

Jessica Hughes: 04:17 Or vice versa.

Randall Hughes: 04:18 Yeah. It means that you can have an open discussion with them about their thoughts on what could be best for the brand and how to move it forward.

Jessica Hughes: 04:26 And it’s totally true. And I think one of the success points that we’ve always had with our clients that have been more longterm clients and that have really allowed us to be an extension of their in house team is those regular status meetings and updates. And they’re not just reviewing what projects are in the queue and what’s coming down the pike, but also just having a generalized conversation about keeping us in the loop about what’s going on with projects, and relevant company developments, for that matter. And that way, whenever we get a brief for a project, we’re not playing catch up, just trying to figure out what the ask is and everything that surrounds it. The decision makers and who are all the chefs in the kitchen that we have to appeal to. So it’s very interesting whenever you have the ability to have those routine conversations.

I’ve also heard of agencies having the opportunity to send their AEs in and be present for in house meetings and those sorts of things up to X number of days a week. And that way, there’s boots on the ground constantly to have buy in and understanding of what’s happening with the brand. And whether you’re looking for just a routine phone call or you’re looking to have someone more routinely onsite for some of those conversations, I think either one at least gives you a step in the right direction.

Randall Hughes: 05:50 Yeah. I think on the flip side of that, though, you have to be careful, though, too, as a brand to make sure that the agency that you’re working with is going to be continuing to help push the brand, and not just falling into old habits because they know what you’re going to say. When you have these longer term relationships with an agency, there can be times where they say, oh, I’m not even going to try that because I know it won’t get approved, or I’m not going to push here because we could never get that through before. And we’re guilty of that. We’ve done it before. But at the same time, we always try to step back and say, okay, I know we’ve struggled with this before, but what is a better solution? Can we try to push through this? Or does the agency itself need to bring in some young blood that can help? They can still manage the relationship, but maybe it’s time to bring in some people who aren’t jaded by some of those things, just to get some new perspectives.

But I think either way, just making sure that as you continue to work, that there’s always fresh ideas, fresh understanding. And this is where the collaboration comes in, being sure not to just shoot down ideas right away and having an open discussion, because I think all those things can be important to help foster a relationship where nothing’s off the table, but let’s make sure that the right thing makes it to the table, so to speak.

Jessica Hughes: 07:07 Right. And to that extent, I think approaching each project with a fresh perspective, that’s what an agency or a freelancer or someone who’s not working internally in the day to day can bring to the table. And the moment that they’re almost so involved in the organization that they can’t pinpoint that external view means that they’re almost too integrated. So there’s that fine line, I feel like, because there’s, to a certain extent, especially with some of our clients, we’ve sat and looked at the fact that we can bring a fresh perspective to a project or a fresh messaging point or creative concepts. Whereas had we been in house and we had sat in all the meetings, we probably would have just bypassed that.

Randall Hughes: 07:51 Yeah. Well, I also can’t tell you, and it’s probably bad business practice on us, but I can’t tell you how many times that we’ve said, all right, our client has been going down this path for far too long. Whether they go for it or not, let’s spend some of our own time and money and put something together to show them something that could work. Just give a completely new perspective. And I think the idea of doing that from an agency perspective, yes, it costs us time and money. But having an agency that’s willing to do that every once in a while and bring fresh perspective is a huge thing, because I think agencies can get a little complacent sometimes and just roll… They’re going after the big wins.

Our agency is really building relationships and trying to foster relationships for longterm growth and being together with our clients. But as we do that, we always try to have that fresh perspective and look on it and say, if they were a new client, how would I be thinking about this? And how would I be doing that? It’s just sometimes putting a simple deck together, sometimes it’s a little more involved than that.

Jessica Hughes: 09:01 Yeah, it is. I think one of the other things that we’ve learned is while we desire to know a lot of the in house teams and the employees of an organization, and there are different roles within the marketing department, or even outside the marketing department for that matter, it has also been very clear that when you’re working with someone and you want them to be at an extension of your team, that there needs to be a clearly defined set of roles and who are the main points of contact.

In other words, there always is this shuffle of communication and you’re not quite sure on the agency side of who to listen to at the end of the day. And so I think that there are some obstacles in your course, in the sense of making sure that, as an extension of your in house team, they understand the hierarchy and who is responsible for making the final call on decisions. And also, not just communication coming to you, but also once the agency sends a proof over or a deck over to be reviewed, that they understand the layers of approvals that need to happen as well, and what all those individuals priorities and perspective are.

Randall Hughes: 10:22 Yeah. And that can be really difficult. The bigger the organization, generally the more layers there are, and we may not always have access to the upper layers. We may be working with the middle layer, which can be a challenge. But I’ll say in a smaller brand, where you might only have one or two people that we’re working with, that can even be more challenging because their opinions are almost equal. Sometimes you might be working with the owner of a business and then their marketing manager or something like that for a smaller food brand. And it can be a challenge, because both of those people are going to have… Their opinions are highly valued in the company, no matter who you’re talking to.

It’s really just saying, before the project even starts or the relationship even starts, who has final say here? Are we going to be able to get a final say? And how do we go about that process? And it’s not always cut and dry. Sometimes you’re tiptoeing around one person to get to another so that you can see where this thing can go. But if you really believe in the relationship and you believe that what you’re doing with them is high quality work and it’s good, then a lot of times, just your passion can come through to help keep something going and make it work.

Jessica Hughes: 11:42 Yeah. And speaking of expectations and communication, I think one of the things that is often lacking is the understanding of what is being asked. So for example, if an organization were to come to us and say, “Hey, I want this commercial spot in the next week. And I need concepts and I need additions and I need all these different things.” I think there needs to be an understanding of what are the priorities to that organization. And a lot of times we’ve run in this with design, we’ve run into it with video, we’ve run into it with photography, we’ve run into it with all sorts of gamuts of creative. Digital, even. But understanding what the priorities are, and also being able to have that conversation in full transparency. Does it have to be the most cost effective option? Does it need to fit the timeline that you’re being asked or is there some flexibility in that timeline? Or does it need to be super high quality, and therefore, maybe we need to revisit the concept? Just understanding what the expectations are of everyone that is involved, all the stakeholders, is really important.

Randall Hughes: 12:58 Yeah. I think it comes often. Every business comes to a place where they say, I want this really fast, I want it cheap, and we need to figure out how to make the highest quality. And I think that that’s… Almost every single project-

Jessica Hughes: 13:11 It’s the triple trifecta. Everyone wants high quality, the cheapest possible, and as fast as they can get it. And the reality is, is often you can only have one or two of the three.

Randall Hughes: 13:21 Yeah. Well, we need to figure out what the priorities are, like Jess was saying. But I think, again, it comes down to figuring out what the relationship is and where you think you can push and not push. And when you’re pushing the agency, to make sure that the capabilities are there and figuring out where you want to go with that. But that type of thing happens to us all the time. Projects come up and you just have to figure it out.

Jessica Hughes: 13:49 It’s part of the industry.

Randall Hughes: 13:50 Yeah, absolutely. And again, I just think having such a tight, close relationship with our clients in many of those cases allows us to work through those things rather quickly so that we can determine, okay, these are the goals. And we can try to push back where we need to push back and figure it out from there.

Jessica Hughes: 14:09 Well, it becomes an exercise in understanding what the expectations are in the relationship. So for some of our clients, we know that fast and cheap outrank quality. For others, it’s fast and quality, but not necessarily always cheap that we can pull off. And there’s different combinations of those three trifecta pieces. But once we understand what the expectations are, I think it’s easier to manage new projects coming in as well.

Randall Hughes: 14:42 Yeah. And I will say, if you’re a food brand and you’re talking to your agency, it’s okay to say, “I know we generally do this way for this one. I need it to be the highest quality possible and the timeline can extend a little bit because of that and the budget.” And then the next time you come, you may have a priority and you need to say, “Okay, I’ve got to get something out there.” We’re coming out of a pandemic. There are times when you just say, “I’ve got to get something out there to support my customers in this time as quickly as I possibly can.” Those are different priorities, and I think it’s okay to have an open relationship with your agency where you can talk about those things and say, “I need it this way, this time, this way this next time.” And work through those things. Again, it’s just setting the expectation before each individual project as you roll into for the relationship.

Jessica Hughes: 15:35 I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about expectations, because I feel like once the agency sets their expectations for the relationship, it’s important to maintain that status quo. Obviously some of these things are easier said than done, and we need to avoid thinking of employees and vendors as operating in separate silos, right?

Randall Hughes: 15:57 Yes.

Jessica Hughes: 15:58 So how does someone, whether you’re a marketing manager or you’re a CMO, but how do you begin to pull all this together so that it’s one big happy communicative family?

Randall Hughes: 16:11 Well, one thing, and it’s actually much harder now, is I would say get everybody in the same room. I think that’s how we’ve gotten to know many of our clients, is we’ve been open to coming in for meetings. And sometimes those meetings are about nothing and they’re just meet and greets, and meet new people that are on the teams and things like that. And I think that adds a lot to the relationship, is just that off the record time. I think that’s important.

Another thing is just, like Jess said, having those one on one calls once a week or once a month or whatever it ends up being, but just staying in heavy communication. And as much as we like to have one or two points of contact, I think getting to know more people, occasionally having different people come into brainstorming sessions or calls or whatever it is to be part of conversations, because I think having a broader voice in those conversations can help bring the two teams together. And that’s from the agency side and the client side. It’s easy for the client to say we’re just going to bring as many as people as we can. The agency can get pricey, to take time away from an agency by bringing more staff, but it’s really an investment in the relationship. And it’s important to connect as many people as you can.

I think one thing that we always try to do, I hate the idea of somebody working on a project and then the client having no clue who worked on the project. To me, yes, we’re a small agency, but I have always wanted the client to understand and know who we are. It doesn’t mean we talk about it every time. We still have one person that connects with our clients on sending out versions of projects and things. But for them to be able to know who those people are and we can reference them, just that’s that more personal relationship.

Jessica Hughes: 18:06 It’s the humanity [crosstalk 00:18:08].

Randall Hughes: 18:08 Yeah, I think so. And when somebody calls… If our client is out there and says, “Thanks for sending this over. I’d really love to talk to the designer,” open that door.

Jessica Hughes: 18:17 Yeah. Allow them to do it.

Randall Hughes: 18:17 Yeah.

Jessica Hughes: 18:19 Yeah. And I also think we need to be able to fall out of the habit of saying, this is our person for this, this is our person for that. So for instance, he’s the guy for all things social media, or if it has anything to do with the blog, it goes to this agency. Instead, consider the goals of each project holistically, and identify what combination of in house strengths and outside resources makes the most sense for the biggest bang for your buck and the best quality.

Randall Hughes: 18:53 Yeah, absolutely.

Jessica Hughes: 18:55 I think that’s really important. Because for instance, we don’t have a copywriter on staff, that’s something that we outsource, but a lot of our clients have copywriters on staff. So we’ll come up with a concept and then we’ll allow the copywriters in house to fine tune them. And obviously, the copywriter can’t shoot video or edit video, so that’s the trade off of that. But there’s other circumstances for that too. For instance, if there’s a brand that we’re working with on packaging and they happen to have an in house illustrator because they do other things that involve illustration, we’re more than happy to have that illustrator do the illustration work in order to save the expense, and apply that illustration work, then, to the packaging.

Randall Hughes: 19:40 Yeah. No, that’s a great point. I think one thing that we love to do is tap into the resources that are available from the actual brand. If you’re coming to the table and you have amazing talent that’s already in your organization, figure out how the agency can work with them to, A, save you costs. But also, I think that improves the culture within your company too. Because I don’t think it’s always a wise option to say, “Okay, we have all these great people that work for us, but we’re going to bypass them every time and utilize an agency.” I think if you can say, “Okay, this agency does these things that we can’t do, but we can do a lot of these things in house, how do we connect them and pull it together and really do something magical as far as relationship and project goes?” I think that can be really big for the overall brand. But again, just feeling out those relationships and not having your agency work against your in house marketing team. I really think connecting them and just allowing them to have a fun relationship that works toward your brand.

Jessica Hughes: 20:41 I agree. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. We will be back next week to visit with you. And until then, continue sharing and reviewing and commenting and subscribing, and we’ll see you next week. Take care.

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