Seven Strategies For Successful Agency Hook-Ups - Pharmaceutical Executive


Seven Strategies For Successful Agency Hook-Ups

Agency Confidential

5 Try them out for access. While the agency is in new- business mode, they will do all they can to give you access to senior people. If you have trouble getting through now, expect big trouble later. (You should be a bit more tolerant with staff who explain to you why they were difficult to reach, and if the explanation involves prioritizing existing clients.)

6 Use a consultancy contract, not an agency one. Award an agency (or several) a job, not a marriage. Their job is not, for example, to do anything you might ever need on IBS; rather, it is to help you to grow the market, reaching a target of 20 percent of patients getting physician consultations within 18 months, with a budget of up to $2 million. You might award the same agency several different tasks, but be clear that each will be evaluated separately.

In general, you want to pay more for senior staff, less for junior staff, and almost nothing for overhead. Our consultancy has a model where we can make money selling the time of very senior consultants for about $600 an hour. We make this affordable to clients by not giving lots of work to junior staff who have to figure it out on the job—it costs less to pay for three hours at $600 than 20 hours at $150. Many of the things that junior agency staff know how to do (bulk e-mailing, for example) can be done more cheaply and more efficiently by administrative staff or contractors. In an age of virtual teams, agencies do not need slick offices in big cities; if they still have them, you're footing the bill—the more opulent the meeting room, the less senior staff time you will get.

Review progress on each contract at a meeting every quarter—follow it with a quick e-mail restating what you are happy with and what you're not. The former will motivate the team; the latter will help them get better. If one task is going wrong, assign it to someone else. When you need to change the task, change the agreement. This does not need to be a big legal amendment, just an e-mail setting out which of your expectations have changed and what the implications are for the budget, including due dates, deliverables, etc. (Or get them to confirm these changes back to you.) If you want their blue sky thinking, add a contract line for "ad hoc counsel." Make sure that you get monthly reports on how far they have progressed toward their targets, and how much they've spent.

7 Name the team in the agreement. Set out which individual will do what sorts of work—the young man with acne will probably do a very good job on meeting reports, but you want the superstar for your ad hoc counsel budget line. Be clear about who your day-to-day contact will be. Spend time with him or her one-on-one before you agree to the contact. It's not a guarantee about who will actually do the work, but it does make clear the expectations. When a significant person leaves, retain the right to end the contract within a reasonable notice period. This will enrage the agency, but is a perfectly fair request—the chances are you hired one or two people who wowed you, not some long-retired founder's vision.

Most of all, remember my friend David's key point: If we make a decision to treat one another with respect and honesty, all sorts of unlikely alliances will work beautifully.

Mark Chataway is co-chairman of Baird's Communication Management Consultants. He can be reached at


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