Agency Assignments: Managing the Hidden Costs - Pharmaceutical Executive


Agency Assignments: Managing the Hidden Costs

Pharmaceutical Executive

Agencies are responsible for getting conference or service reports written and delivered quickly. Dates, costs, and responsibilities should be recorded. Clients need to read those reports when given them. If there's something you don't agree with, let the agency know right away—not weeks later.

3) Work at it. Do I have to actually say it? We all know that every successful relationship takes work. Agency/client relationships take the investment of time, and not just during the crunch periods.

It's tough to find time for lunch these days as we run from meeting to meeting—but make that time. Or find time for an early coffee, a drink after work, an occasional dinner. It's these moments that add depth to the relationship and create opportunities to review processes, performances, and people without a crisis at hand. Talk about the big things, the small things, and find the time to keep doing so.

4) Pay absolute attention to the details. How many times has a relationship fallen apart because of small mistakes in billing? A missed deadline? Feedback coming too late? Great work, insightful planning, and years of building trust can be sabotaged by careless oversights. What starts with a simple error can get compounded as other details are missed or miscommunicated, or, even worse, they aren't resolved quickly and with professionalism. Mismanagement of the minutia means clients lose money, and agencies lose accounts. Forget the devil—it's trust that lives and dies in the details.

5) Give them a seat at the table. This one should be simple, but it never is. Clients, invite the agency to your planning meetings. Agencies, invite the client to your next account discussion. Clients, don't think the agencies don't need to spend time on planning and strategy. They will learn a lot, and might even contribute something. And agencies, don't worry about a client spoiling your magic. Show them how smart and insightful their agency team is, and how hard it is to deliver creative on a schedule

6) Keep management on the team. Current thinking says that decisions should be made at the lowest level affected, and that issues should be delegated to the appropriate group. Unfortunately, that thinking has often left important, sometimes subjective decision making to those with limited real-world experience.

Advertising and marketing decisions require senior management on both sides of the relationship. Not for daily activity, but for the big stuff.

Another downside of delegation is that lower-level teams are given responsibility, yet find themselves second-guessed by senior management. Which means plans change abruptly, costs increase, and time frames collapse. Having agency senior management involved can help keep client management looped into the process at appropriate points.

7) Know the benefit of applying the benefit of the doubt. There is an advertising myth (which may be true) that agency legend Bill Bernbach of DDB fame always carried a small card in his pocket with three simple, but powerful, words on it: "Maybe he's right." If both agencies and clients thought this way, maybe relationships would last longer.

Consider that the next time an issue comes up. Maybe the agency sees something that you don't. Maybe there is enough equity in the relationship to give the agency the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously some relationships get beyond the point of repair, or certain philosophical or business issues become truly insurmountable. In those cases, both parties are better off going their separate ways. But for the vast majority of us out there, keeping agency/client relationships healthy and productive is far more beneficial than the alternative.

Al Topin is president of Topin & Associates, a full-service medical marketing communications firm, and a member of Pharm Exec's Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached at


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