5 tips for maximizing 'agile' relationships with marketing agencies

5 best practices to maximize ‘agile’ agency performance

By Meg Sullivan

February 20, 2023
These 5 tips will help make the agile model work for your organization and your agency partners

Is your organization making the transition to “agile”? The well-known project-management approach, which grew out of the software-development world with objectives of increased speed to market, productivity, transparency and collaboration, is making its way across entire enterprises.

If your marketing team is implementing the agile method — congratulations! Change is good! It can bring fresh thinking, innovation and process improvements.

In fact, according to McKinsey, in 2021, companies that moved to an agile marketing model saw a 20% to 30% increase in their marketing revenues. What’s not to love?

Moving into the unknown

Change can be uncomfortable and scary. And implementing a new business methodology to even the most receptive audience can be daunting. A group of software developers created the original Agile Manifesto, so applying it to marketing programs may not seem like a natural fit. Sometimes, it isn’t.

Some marketers have reported that the transition to the agile model broke their agency relationships. Don’t be put off, but talk to your agencies. With the right perspective and strong agency relationships in place, your working model can evolve so that it continues to work for everyone.

The future of marketing?

Businesses that pivoted and demonstrated flexibility during the pandemic showed agile practices in action. Such stopgap measures have evolved into business as usual, and marketing teams are adapting for the long-term.

 We’ve had the benefit of working with clients as they applied agile frameworks to their programs and have experienced success together. Some used agile processes on individual marketing programs; others transformed their entire enterprises. None of these transitions broke our client/agency partnerships but they did all fundamentally change how we work together.

Best practices to maximize agency performance

As you determine how the agile methodology applies to your marketing model, put these best practices in play as you evolve:

1. Think of “agile” with a small “a.”

It’s an attitude, not a set of processes. There is clarity in the original Manifesto: “Individuals and Interactions. Working [programs.] Customer collaboration. Responding to change.” It’s simple. Not a lot of noise.

As marketers and agencies, we try to keep things simple all the time. If you’re getting caught up in meetings and process documentation, how “agile” can your organization be?

2. Communicate with your agency partners early and often about the transition to the agile model.

A primary goal of an agency is to make you as successful as possible. The more an agency knows about your organization’s direction, the more proactive the team can be in terms of adjusting to the new model.

3. Expect changes to marketing program delivery and now less-defined deliverables.

One of our clients adopted a process that fixes project budget and timing at the beginning of a project and allows the project scope to be variable.This gives the agile marketing team flexibility to develop creative solutions and iterate on those solutions during project sprints. Such responsiveness is one of the key tenets of the agile method.

It can present challenges as contracts are drafted, however. Because deliverables may not be defined, clients need to be comfortable paying for agency time and expertise — not specific output — during the process. There is sometimes a shift in thinking for contracts or purchasing groups who, for good reason, are reluctant to structure an agency relationship where the meter keeps running. As new contracts are developed after an agile transition, it’s vital for the agency to continually demonstrate value to the agile team and for the marketing partner to convey that value to the team drafting the contracts.

4. Try different staffing, reporting and billing structures. And expect some short-term sticker shock.

The transition to an agile marketing model will have economic and staffing implications for your organization and your agency partners. Be prepared — it could cost more than you thought in the short-term.

It’s generally expected that the members of an agile team are 100 percent dedicated to that initiative (and pre-pandemic were co-located in the same physical space). That’s typically cost-prohibitive and resource-intensive for an agency. If, as a client, you’re expecting your agency partners to dedicate the same time commitment to the agile team as the in-house staff, you’ll likely see an increase in billable hours to your account.

One solution could be for a single agency resource to be fully dedicated to the client and shared across several agile marketing teams. They may be co-located on-site at the client if the client is open for business. Depending on the work, that agency resource could either execute the work or function as an account/client service person, communicating back to the agency in a way that is invisible to the client to ensure that all the work is completed and brought back to the client.

5. Don’t forget the long game.

With agile’s emphasis on incremental progress, large-scale initiatives and long-term goals can sometimes fall from view. Figure out a way to keep the long-term goals in sight, even as you’re running down the latest sprint.

The move to an agile marketing model will bring changes to the operations and administration of your group and external partnerships. But with good communication and flexibility, you’ll be able to maintain creative collaboration, which is really at the heart of both the agile framework and innovative marketing.

We’d love to discuss your organization’s experience with agile: what’s working and what’s still evolving. Please let us know.


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