How to Partner With Other Agencies and Build a Collaborative Relationship

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Sean Young
Sean Young



Remember the first time you were placed into a group project at school? You were so excited to work alongside your friends, hear their ideas, share the work, and present together. You learned things from them you didn’t know, you figured out how to divide and conquer, you understood that collaborating well would indeed get you that “A.” You also learned that maybe everyone was not as thrilled as you about the prospect of working together. You found out that some people were really best at getting everyone else to do their work. But hey, you’re a grown-up now. A grown-up at an agency where the stakes are higher, your reputation is on the line, and it is the client who will decide your “grade.”

More frequently than ever you will be in a “group project” situation. Why? Marketers are looking for best-in-class solutions with a range of capabilities. One-stop shops continue to be ideal for many projects, but sometimes it is the ability to tap into multiple sources of expertise that is the successful answer.

Collaboration between multiple agencies isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. Along the way there may be a few bumps; overlapping capabilities, different financial goals, and even egos can make collaboration and integration a full time job on its own. But, with the right goals, approach, clear accountabilities and willing partners, it can be done – and done well. Our agency has both led and collaborated with many integrated agency teams, so we have a unique perspective on what it takes to foster collaboration.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and a guide for “playing well with others.”

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What’s the ultimate goal of collaboration among agencies?


Aligning all agency partners to delivering the ultimate business objective is the most important aspect of collaboration. Knowing and having a common goal unifies an integrated team more powerfully than anything else and drives accountability across the team. This ensures each agency partner thinks and works beyond results specific to their discipline, in service of the broader business objective.

And interestingly, when all partners are working to achieve a common result, we’ve repeatedly found that the egos diminish and the best thinking and solutions emerge.

Why would you want multiple agencies instead of an “all in one?”

To get the best.

While most agencies do have a wide variety of services that often meet all of client’s needs, the more likely fact is that we are expert in a few things and growing in everything else. Hiring agencies that are best-in-class in their given discipline and integrating them with other best-in-class partners actually makes collaboration easier and smoother. We often take a “best idea wins” approach when working with our clients’ integrated partner agencies to building CXM strategies, knowing that we might not execute our winning ideas if they fall outside our swim lane.

What’s the best approach as a client to foster agency collaboration?

Determine who quarterback is, and make sure all partners are aware.

All of the integrated partner agency relationships we’ve seen fall into one of two models:

  1. Client plays the quarterback
  2. Lead agency plays the quarterback

Of course there are pros and cons with both models, so to determine which model is best for your organization, you need to consider a few factors:

Your internal resource capacity

Playing quarterback is a job all on its own, especially if there are more than two agency partners. Project kickoffs, weekly status meetings, integrated execution, post-campaign analysis, and optimization all require coordination on strategic and tactical levels. This can be extremely time consuming.

Your internal department structure

The structure of your team will help determine if the client team or the lead agency should play quarterback. If your team is heavily centralized and integrated, rather than decentralized and organized into autonomous units, then playing quarterback for all your agency partners will likely come as second nature. If you have autonomous disciplines, who have likely each hired their specialist, best-in-class agency on their own terms, it might be best to have a “lead” agency play quarterback as they often have a broad understanding of each agency partner’s perspective.

Your organization’s past experience playing quarterback

This is fairly straightforward, but if you and your team have never integrated multiple partner agencies in the past, then it’s probably best to identify one “lead” partner agency with a track record of past experience, and task them with playing quarterback for all the agency partners.

Your desired level of control

Clearly this is much more subjective and specific to your organization. It requires an honest assessment and self-awareness of your comfort level relinquishing control to a lead agency, or not. And it also requires genuine trust in the agency you ask to play quarterback. Enabling these two elements helps ensure that tasking one of your agency partners to play quarterback will last for the long run.

Regardless of the approach you use to foster collaboration, there are three key qualities to look for in all of your agency partners. These should feel like they are core to the DNA and day-to-day operations of each agency:

  1. Your agency partners should live for, and be focused on, the best ideas that drive results — regardless who came up with them.
  2. Self-awareness of key strengths and the role each plays on the integrated team.
  3. Works with other agency partners proactively without client direction/mandate to collaborate, come up with big ideas, and execute them.

Like any relationship, fostering collaboration among multiple agencies requires effort, open communication, clear goals, and metrics — and clear direction. But the effort always pays off big and produces results. Just like that “A” you got on the group project in school. And who knows, you might have some fun along the way and form long, deep relationships with both clients and other partner agencies that lead to great work year after year.

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