3 Tips to Manage Multiple Agency Partners

July 7, 2019

Justin Grossman outlines three practices that are key to navigating today’s multiplayer agency landscape - and getting more value from each external vendor.

If my 20 years in this industry have taught me anything, it’s that pharma marketers have a high-stress, complex job. Physicians are harder to reach, value chains have become more nuanced, and patients are playing a bigger role in their care decisions than ever before. Simultaneously, technology and data accessibility have raised the bar on what consumers expect.

The demands on today’s pharma marketers are only growing. To deliver on those demands, many pharma marketers rely on external partners. But it isn’t as simple as hiring a single agency; a complex digital landscape requires an equally complex ecosystem of partner agencies.

We recently interviewed senior pharma marketers throughout the United States, and found that over 70% rely on multiple multiple digital partners and specialty vendors to achieve the technical objectives that often fall outside of the capabilities of their agencies of record (AORs). Managing these multiple vendors requires extensive coordination, and can result in frustration when communication falls apart.

These three practices are key to navigating today’s multiplayer agency landscape - and getting more value from each of your external vendors.

1. Be direct with expectations

Working with multiple vendors means that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. If you want to avoid confusion-induced project delays, be frank about expectations with your marketing partners from the get-go. Whether you’re working with two vendors or five, you can avoid conflict by giving each of them access to critical information.

● Your organizational structure: Provide your vendors with a visual operating model that shows who on your brand team is responsible for what, from creative concept to production.

● How you’ll work together: Get everyone in the same room and outline how internal and external stakeholders will partner. Distribute an agency collaboration model that clearly illustrates the realm of your brand team, AOR, digital production agencies, and specialty partners to offset confusion over each team’s area of responsibility.

● Who has the final say: If there’s duplicative expertise at the table, avoid conflicts of interest by naming a product or initiative leader as the designated final decision maker.

● Roles and responsibilities: Make sure everyone is apprised of clear guidelines regarding who’s going to do what (and when). Don’t forget to define interdependencies. At my agency, meltmedia, we’ve set up key onboarding approaches, roles and responsibility structures, and processes for project hand-offs and deliverables.

When you bring all the parties together, you empower your agencies to see beyond their own scope of work and understand your project holistically. In the long run, giving your partners greater context will better set them up to deliver more value during the engagement.

2. Clear the air

When you’re managing several marketing vendors throughout the day―not to mention your own direct reports and relationships with other team members―it’s easy for wires to get crossed. Implement best practices in project communications with the following steps.

● Identify a source of truth: Multiple stakeholders reporting on project status make tracking progress difficult. Designate a key channel, such as your project management collaboration platform, as the single source of truth. Require all contributors (internal and external) to report progress through that channel in real time.

● Create a communication protocol: Help your external partners understand the communication chain of command, including escalation paths and final decision-making authorities. At meltmedia, we’ve defined a standard workflow for how our team members communicate with our clients, as well as other agencies they’re working with, to facilitate the process.

● Don’t delay when the direction changes: It’s common to want to delay communicating changes in the project timeline or scope to outside partners before you have everything cleared internally, but when the stakes are high, the sooner you get everyone on the same page the less room for confusion and chaos there will be. Your partners may also be able to offer up insights to help validate or improve the change.

3. Get real about metrics

Establishing measures of success before you sign on the dotted line is essential. Not only will you learn what metrics and data your vendors and partners are capable of communicating, you’ll provide a more concise picture of what you expect them to deliver. Agencies can only meet your expectations if they know what matters most to you.

● Create shared goals: Agencies are rarely siloed by channel; for example, your AOR, digital production agency, and media buying agency may all play a key part in reaching your digital display ad goals. Ensure that all vendors are working toward the same business priorities, and determine how their success will be measured. It’s possible that multiple vendors will be responsible for the same key performance indicator (KPI).

● Provide transparent insight: Timely feedback is essential for all stakeholders involved. Determine key reporting benchmarks, who is responsible for each, and set deadlines as to when they should be reported. You can mitigate risks and stay on track with your project when all stakeholders have a transparent picture of the progress.

● Think about the intangibles: When it comes to ensuring a successful engagement, go beyond the numbers, setting the standards high by sharing your organizational core values. When your agencies and vendors have an understanding of your company culture and values it gives them a clear picture of how you expect to do business.

As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” Pharma marketing is continually becoming more complex, and your agency partners should be your greatest allies in navigating that complexity with ease - not adding to it. These time-tested communication practices empower them to do so, and better serve you in the process.   

Justin Grossman is CEO of meltmedia