— Article 07  How to Set up a Successful Partnership

Three co-workers arranging dominos to test

You’ve written a great RFP, found the perfect agency partner, negotiated the contract, and now you’re ready to go! Everyone’s excited and ready to get this project off the ground. If you’re wondering, “How can I make this project run smoothly and produce the best outcome?” we’ve got a few tips for you.

With your team:

Whether your project team is you and a partner, or a collection of stakeholders from various departments, it’s important to get everyone on the same page.

Start by defining the who, what, when, and how of the project.

Establish roles and responsibilities

Make sure team members understand their role in the process before the project starts. Describe the type of input you’re looking for from them, and when you expect it. For example, do you want their input at every meeting? At key waypoints? Only at the beginning of the project?

You can define individual responsibilities, or create categories for different types of stakeholders. For example, we’ve seen clients have success with something similar to the following:

  • Core Project Team – 3 or 4 staff members with distinct viewpoints who will be involved with every meeting, presentation, and decision throughout the project.
  • Project Committee – a larger group of 8-12 people from various disciplines or levels within the company hierarchy. The committee provides expertise and perspective at project kickoff, and convenes at larger project milestones.

Of course, the above is just an example. What’s most important when organizing your stakeholders is that you clearly communicate to each about their role and what’s expected of them. This will help them feel secure, and allow them to balance the needs of the project with other work.

Not only that, but your agency partner will appreciate having a consistent, committed team that’s prepared to contribute throughout the project.

Clarify scope and schedule

Once you’ve defined the project team, review the scope together. It’s likely not all your team members were involved in the negotiation process, or perhaps the scope or schedule has changed since they last saw it.

Setting expectations with everyone about the pace of work and what’s included also allows you to be conscious and sensitive of your team’s needs. Perhaps this project doesn’t cover everyone’s business goals, or hit everything on the wish list. You can use this as an opportunity to explain how and why decisions were made, and address their concerns before the project begins.

Define project tools and processes

With email, texts, phone calls, gChat, Slack, meeting notes, conversations, and the occasional lunch table chats, there are numerous ways to communicate – and numerous opportunities for decisions and details to fall through the cracks.

Here are some questions you’ll want to answer before getting too deep into the project:

  • What tools will you use to communicate among your internal team?
  • What tools will you use to communicate among vendors and external collaborators?
  • Where will project documents be hosted?
  • Will meetings be recorded through notes, audio, video, or all of the above?
  • How will you document decisions?

Once you’ve answered these questions, share it with the broader team and make sure team members have the proper access and permissions to any tools they need.

With your partner:

All of the above will help set your team up for success. A great agency partner will take similar steps to organize the project on their end, making sure you’re prepared for effective collaboration. Here are a few key ways you can guarantee a great result.

Provide background

Your partner needs to quickly get up to speed on your organization and project to deliver good work. Prepare for this by collecting materials that will help them – things like branding and strategy documents, audience research and surveys, campaign reporting, design files, and any relevant content. You may also want to provide them access to tools like analytics or social media accounts.

Handing all this over at the start of an engagement will give your partner a smooth orientation, and the more robust context allows them to deliver better results faster.

Be accessible

While many organizations bring on partners due to a lack of internal bandwidth or expertise, the adage still stands: you only get out what you put in.

In other words, you’ll need to block off time and energy for this partnership if you want it to do well. It would be a mistake to expect your partner to work in a silo and still produce work that resonates with your team and your audiences. Be available for frequent check-ins and conversations to make sure you’re sharing your experience and providing essential input throughout the project.

Open up

Be conscious of the things you and your team have been talking about – whether aspirations or fears. Then share those conversations and ideas with your partner! They can build a deeper understanding of you as a client, and offer their valuable perspective as well. Sometimes that’s as simple as validating your intuition, and other times your partner can guide you away from a cliff.

It's essential to communicate everything from preferences to hopes and vision; your selected partner is great at what they do, but they’re not mind readers.

Be supportive

Many of the tips above are about concrete steps and processes you can take to set your project off on the right foot. But we have one more piece of advice: be supportive. A supportive mindset lays the foundation for a culture of collaboration and good will. This is mostly an attitude, but it can manifest in many ways:

  • Clue your agency partner in to political sensitivities, personal agendas, or people’s general level of expertise in areas before they meet with a larger group. This can help them navigate the smoothest course, and understand what topics to cover or emphasize (and at what level).
  • Offer to have an active role in meetings and presentations, rather than just providing feedback– for example, you can have a moment in the kickoff where you discuss how the project will fit into your business objectives. This demonstrates that you and the agency are two parts of the same team.
  • Help your partners stay on track by preparing your team for meetings, interviews, and workshops. You can ask for an agenda or other highlights that people should prepare for ahead of time. This makes sure everyone’s time is spent efficiently and effectively.
  • Collect and send questions in advance of a phone call or meeting. That way, your partner can be better prepared with a considered and insightful answer.

Just as you need the agency, the agency needs you. This collaborative mindset is what makes for strong results. If you take the time to be proactive about the details above, you can help minimize uncertainty, delays, and late-breaking changes that can impact fees and schedules.

About the project

This series of articles shares what we've learned from 20 years of working with clients. Whether you’re a CMO or a project manager, the Client Handbook will help you find the right agency and deliver value for your organization.