Insights: In Your Sandbox of Agencies, Everyone Needs to Play Nice


TL;DR: Are you a brand manager overseeing multiple agencies and want them to play nice and collaborate better together? The good news is, you already know how to do it. Think back to your childhood days on the playground for guidance.

Ask any ad agency employee what they think of another agency’s work, and more often than not, you’ll receive a “meh,” or a series of less-than-HR-appropriate responses. At their core, agencies and their employees are incredibly competitive, whether specializing in a niche service or providing a full-service program.

Over the years, we’ve seen a growing trend of inter-agency collaboration, integration and consolidation, bringing multiple agencies on common clients to take full advantage of great minds, while finding the most productive and efficient means of success. In fact, some brands are moving away from an agency of record all together.

However, if one of those agencies is a specialist in a certain area (digital, social, public relations, media planning, etc.), it’s highly likely another agency on the roster offers similar services. Many brands appreciate the benefit of utilizing specialty agencies, so the overlap isn’t going away.

How does a brand ensure they’re getting the most from their agencies and those agencies are playing nice, when they’re not contracted to manage a portion of the project in which they’re highly skilled? Fortunately, many of the rules we learned as children, still hold weight for troubleshooting this issue.  

Let’s walk down memory lane, shall we?

1. Define thy sandbox



Whether you remember the words of wisdom your parents would provide, or you’re a current parent doling them out, phrases like: “Play nicely and make sure you share” or “take turns so it’s fair for everyone” probably seem awfully familiar. However, the same logic applies if you’re a brand and trying to get your agencies to play well together. YOU need to take the lead to define roles and responsibilities between agencies, particularly if they have crossover between them.

The solution? Be extremely clear and transparent about each agency’s role for the brand. Where there are grey areas (e.g., between your digital/social agency and your PR agency), concretely outline who will be responsible for ideation and production should an idea come to fruition across all mediums. When you have an AOR that oversees all brand direction, make sure your other agencies take their lead from that brand direction, but also make sure you give the other agencies room to effectively interpret it in their specific medium.

2. Monitor thy sandbox


Go to any playground, and watch the parents as the kids enjoy themselves in the sandbox. Notice how they check in occasionally to make sure everything is going well, injecting themselves when an argument or issue arises. As a client, you should have a similar role.

The more your agencies are comfortable with each other and start building positive and supportive relationships among themselves, the need for you to “helicopter parent” them should decrease. To that end, you may want to encourage them (at a minimum) or demand (at a maximum) that they regularly meet together without you there.

In a past agency-client relationship I oversaw, we called these “Super Friends” meetings. They were set up quarterly with the agencies taking turns hosting the others. No clients were invited, thereby encouraging frank conversations and relationship building. The more the agencies interacted without the client in the room, the stronger the bonds grew and the more we wanted to support each other in ultimate service of the client’s brand.

The important thing was to provide the agencies with autonomy and trust with clear definitions of their roles. Of course, you may always need to step in and break up any squabbles, but hopefully those will be fewer and farther between.

3. Expand thy Sandbox


As agencies become more comfortable with the situation and their roles, you may be surprised at the results as you loosen the reins. Encouraging your agencies to collaborate and brainstorm together can result in great ideas becoming even better.

For example, Brand USA approached us in 2017 with assets as part of its 2017 See How Far You Can Go campaign. The creative had been optimized for TV, OOH and digital display, but social was the missing piece.

We worked with our client’s creative agency to secure the videos and photos we needed to fulfill our vision and turned around to work with the media buying agency to optimize messaging and ad placement on the international scale.

Encouraging your agencies to work together and tap into their specialties on behalf of your brand will yield ideas and executions far beyond your expectations. However, you need to set your partners for this success by clearly defining roles and responsibilities, particularly in areas of potential overlap.

Happy sandboxing!


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