It all started so well. The contracts were signed and the champagne was flowing. But when once you saw yourselves as the next Unilever, capable of holding down those long-term agency relationships, now getting through the campaign you paid for will be an ask. Your agency has lost that spark from when you first met; you struggle to meet on the same page; they don’t return your calls. Why is it that your agency just isn’t that into you anymore?

An appointment is an exciting thing. From my experience, I’ve seen brands select an agency from a wealth of choices; one that shows them a glimpse of their future. It’s a moment when you’ve lowered the drawbridge and expect them to come on in, and exhibit behaviour more suited to Spamalot than say Game of Thrones.

It’s easy to assume that once such an appointment is made, the next logical step is the creation of the work. Yet what does come next, and is so frequently glazed over, is the process of properly inducting and onboarding someone you work with so closely. Or in other terms, the moment you commit to changing your status from ‘It’s Complicated’ to ‘In a Relationship’.

Here I suggest some things to take into consideration when onboarding and how to ensure that when you look back at the start of this relationship, the appointment is remembered as the beginning of something great.

Celebrate It

One look at the advertising press shows the dominance of appointment stories. Yet it can sometimes seem like a shallow case of ‘who won what’ with victors enjoying the spoils over the ‘also-rans’ and the incumbents. I see these stories as much more than that; as statements of intent; celebrations even. Instead of a eulogy for an incumbent, this is the start of a new story. While some clients are keen to hold back on an announcement until the work has been produced, it makes sense to do both. Agencies love an announcement, and there will be many stories to tell, so why not harness the excitement and momentum already built, and ensure each one is out there to be read.

The Ex

Rather than hurl the photos into the fire or delete their number from your phone, try and see what it is that you can learn from a previous agency. The end of a relationship is often the most illuminating, and there’s little sense in bringing a new agency on board without setting out how you want this one to run differently. Ask yourselves what you have learned from your last agency, and how this can help inform your work with your next one. Changing agencies is part and parcel of the industry, so rather than allowing it to be consumed by over-sensitivity and bad feelings, use it as a way to learn and change.

But think about that old line – ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ You would be remiss to think the breakdown of your last relationship was entirely the fault of the agency. Be sure to identify what weaknesses there are client-side, across the organisation, so that when you find an agency, you’re bringing your best self to the relationship as well.

Be Honest About Their Best Qualities

Keeping the creativity, excitement, ideas and passion going at the start of a client-agency relationship is one thing, but another is keeping communications open and honest. If there were people during the review process who you responded well to, then say. Ensure that you have the team you want working with you. Likewise, if there were any personality clashes.

Promote clarity over everyone’s roles and responsibilities so that when the work starts, you (and they) know exactly who is responsible for what. Invite this same honesty from your agency too. If plans need to be adjusted until they are right, an atmosphere where frankness is welcome is essential.

Invest In Every Brief

Next to ‘pitch’, ‘brief’ is perhaps the word most commonly related to any review process. This is down to the clarity with which it outlines the needs, ambitions and wishes of the client. So why not take this clarity of information forwards into the relationship? Agencies consistently maintain that excellent quality briefs mean excellent quality work.

Therefore ensure each brief includes what you want to see in the campaign and possesses the same clarity, quality and original thinking you expect from the agency’s work in reply. Setting key milestones and bars for success will give the agency the targets they need and most likely want. Whatever their level, ensure that everyone in your team understands the importance of high-quality briefing all the time and not just at flagship moments. And if this isn’t happening – invest in it until it does.