Managing Agency Relationships With Brands


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A Third Party Makes A Better Party

A strange relationship exists between brands and agencies where they need each other but don't always understand the nature of the other. For this reason, a lot of partnerships between the two can easily go south if expectations are not properly managed.

For this reason both parties can benefit from a neutral third party who understands how agencies work and can assess their progress if the brand is unable to see the full picture. Recently, our CEO Stacy Jones sat down to chat with a strategic marketing expert to help shed some light on the topic. In this blog post, Hollywood Branded examines how brands can benefit from a consultant dedicated to managing agency relationships from the expertise and experience of Suzanne Brown.

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A Little Background On Suzanne

Suzanne has over 18 years of experience in working in strategic marketing. At OKSuzi marketing, Suzanne specializes in business plan research and development, targeting market agency research and analysis. She is a business consultant who helps seasoned entrepreneurs with the high level marketing challenges in large companies work better with their marketing agencies. She is a business consultant who helps seasoned entrepreneurs with the high level marketing challenges in large companies work better with their marketing agencies. Suzanne has taught workshops at large companies, organizations, and educational institutions.

She has experience as an integrated marketer on well-known Fortune 500 clients at large agencies in Austin, New York, Chicago, and Miami. And for the past six years, Suzanne has been able to apply big business knowledge to smaller clients' needs. She's also given a TED Talk and is award-winning and best-selling author.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: Can you talk a little bit about what got you started in the world of agency and marketing, and how long you've been doing what you're doing, and a little bit more about your background and what led you to wanting to actually talk about this topic today?

Answer: I kind of fell into the agency world. I had had the world's worst internship at a marketing agency that I eventually went and worked for, but it was a job I basically was asking my manager when I had been an intern, I said, "I want to go and apply for something at this other company, can you recommend me?" And he said, "I will only recommend you if you apply for this open position here at the agency."

He definitely strong armed me a little bit but it was one of the best decisions that I've ever made. I essentially was walking into an agency fresh out of college, having to take over for someone who was two or three levels above where I would have been as the most junior person on the team, because she was going on maternity leave. I had to walk in and basically totally fill her shoes and work on TV productions that were happening, and they were on huge brands.

It was Pampers, Charmin, Pepto, and Bounty. They were huge pieces of business. And it was in the Hispanic marketing world, so the budgets were definitely not as big as they are in general market. But what it came down to was, I had to learn a ton in a really short amount of time. It really set me up for success for the rest of my career. So, I spent a little more than 12 years on the agency side.


I'm an integrated marketer, so I've worked in every kind of marketing that you can imagine, which is not normally how you have your career. If you're on the agency side, normally you develop a specialization. I wanted to eventually become a truly integrated marketer. And I realized that wasn't going to happen if I stayed on track in only one area.

So, I worked on all kinds of different brands, lots of different industries. I went and I got my MBA, after being in the market, in the agency world for about five years, I said, "I'm never going to go back to an agency again," which are truly famous last words. So I went back to the agency world. And the thing about coming back to an agency after you've gotten an MBA is, all of a sudden they realize that you have skills that most people don't have in an agency.

I did very nontraditional things, like strategic relationships, and I worked in different ways to help the agency make money, like literally my last job was as a financial strategist. My job was to help the agency make money, which you would think is like, "oh, yeah, of course, you need somebody doing that." But most agencies, even large agencies don't have that role. But that gave me just a very interesting perspective on the relationship between a brand and their marketing agency and how do contracts work, and how do you financially bring things together?

Because I had done those things, leading an account, but I hadn't done them from the outside perspective of business building. So, all of a sudden, I saw very different things than I did as I was leading a business. I had done marketing consulting from 2004 until about 2012. So, walking out of my MBA, I went to work for a company before working at a marketing agency again. I still had clients come to me and say, "Hey, can you work on this project," which were my own consulting clients. And I said, "You know I have a job," and they're like, "Yeah, that's great and all, but can you work on this project for me?"

In 2012, I focused on my own thing, and became 100% entrepreneur. The whole reason for doing this whole relationship between marketers and their marketing agencies is because I got a ton of questions about how that works, and people who were struggling with that relationship, and I thought, "you're a seasoned marketer, you've been in the workforce for however many years," and many of these were my MBA friends, and I said, "You know, I don't understand," and they said, "Here's the deal. When are you taught how to manage a marketing agency?"

Literally, when is that something that you're taught as an entrepreneur, as a brand manager on a huge piece of business? It's one of your single biggest expenditures, it's one of your biggest line items in your budget, but when are you taught how to do this? And then on the flip side, agencies are never truly taught how to manage a client, right? It's this weird gap, but it's needed.

Marketers and their agencies, that will exist for a long time, right? Who knows what it will look like in 20 years. But these are relationships and circumstances that have been around for over 100 years. But on both sides, neither one is taught how to deal with the other side.

Question: So, what is the first step? How do you start building that bridge?

Answer: What I think it really comes down to is the question becomes, do you need a marketing agency, right? There are a few things that can help you figure that out. So, part of it is definitely budget, and I will say so many people are like, "Oh, I can't get a marketing agency because I don't have a million dollars." You don't have to have a million dollars to have a marketing agency. I mean, there are marketing agencies that deal with every size client that you can imagine.

I think it becomes more of, do you have a consistent budget that you can spend on marketing. The thing to keep in mind is, you are always spending money on marketing. So, even if you decide to use social media as your marketing tool, there is still time associated with using that social media, right? There is still ... And time ultimately equals money. So, you are always spending some kind of money, some kind of resource on marketing.

I think that when the time comes for you to be able to engage an external resource, it is really helpful to think of a budget of anywhere from like 15 to 30% of your budget can be spent on marketing. That means anything, right? Like that can be any size budget that we're talking about. But it's not like, "Oh, I can do it for these three months, but I can't do it for the next two years." You don't need an external resource if that's the case. I think that's the first step


And then there are a few different scenarios when I think it's really helpful to know if you need a marketing agency. It might be that your sales are stagnant, or it might be that they're very hit or miss, like you're not consistently making sales. It could be that you are making sales and you are doing marketing, but you really don't understand what's working. So it's like, "I know something's working, but I don't actually know why or how." And that might mean that you need somebody to come in and really kind of understand, like, what is going well, and how do we continue to mimic this?

It could be because you have a new target, and you're trying to understand the mindset of that new target. It could be that you need to update your brand, you know, you've had something in place, you've had a great internal team who's rocking and rolling, and maybe it's because you do get new money. Maybe it's because you've just hit a point where you're like, you know, we need to rebrand, we need to make new things happen. It's really helpful to have an external team do that.

You need a broader set of skills. You have talked about, on some of your podcasts, about how to do things the right way with influencers. Maybe you're wanting to engage with an influencer, and you're like, "You know what, that is totally not in our wheelhouse. We need to go find somebody who can really strategically guide us to do that."

And then the final one is really, you don't have the time. Literally, you don't have the time to do this, your own team is like I am strapped, I can't take on anymore. So instead of hiring another person, go and look for an external resource that allows you to have a very different skill set, or it allows you to engage different tools at different times.

You can think of different people on a team as different tools in your toolkit. So, I think that that can help, and that's whether you're a big brand or a small brand. That can be that you're a solo entrepreneur who's growing, or it can be that you are a multimillion dollar business. So, I think those times can really help.

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Question: From a individual standpoint, you have the option of okay, your team is at full max capacity, they can't take on anything else. You can't take on anything else and you have the decision, you can go out and hire an agency to assist you, or you could hire someone else to join your team. How do you know which is the better one to do?

Answer: I think it comes down to what you ultimately need. Because when you hire a single individual, you only get their set of skills. But when you hire an agency, like your agency, you get a lot of different skills. There might be other industries that can help you think differently about what you're doing in your own industry. There might be, you know ... You naturally as an agency have different kinds of people who work with you. You have account people, you have people in production, you've got creatives, you've got all these different kinds of people.

And so maybe it's that they don't work 100% on this piece of business, maybe you only get 25% of each of these individuals. But all of a sudden, you get all of their understanding, their experience. So you get all of those things. Whereas if you hire a single person, you only get that woman or man's experience. That's it. And so you have to think about what do I really need to move the needle?

That's a pretty important conversation to have, either with yourself or with your team, not to threaten them of like, I'm going to go hire somebody, but it's like, how can we make our time and effort and money more efficient? Is that bringing a person in, or is that looking externally so that we can amplify what we do in a different way.

Question: You mentioned this earlier, what's the first place to start? You think that you're ready to work with an agency and you want to go out and find, how do you do it? What's the best way?

Answer: So, the first thing you need to do is you need to look at yourself, you need to do an internal audit, and you really need to understand, essentially 360 degrees of your marketing right now, right? You need to understand what are you doing well, what are you not doing well, and part of that is going to have to be looking at like internal processes, it might be looking at your products.

Maybe you're not delivering 100% of the time, and you're going to need to fix those things. But I think it's helpful to do that 360 degree audit, because that helps you understand what do you do? What are your strengths and weaknesses? And what do you actually need from this external resource? If you are amazing in all things social media, but your website sucks, you don't need to go find somebody who does social media really well. You need to go find a digital resource who can completely revamp your everything online that you're doing, that's your website, maybe the funnels that you have in place.

Or maybe it's that you're doing really well on social media, but you really need help with email marketing, because it's like, okay, once we bring them into our company, and they're excited about us, we start losing people left and right. That's when you find those, that's when you figure out like, what exactly you need instead of, "Oh, it would be super cool if we could..." It's like, no, you don't want to do that. That's not the right word.

You want to be strategic because ultimately you are going to spend money, and you're going to spend time. You're going to have to find the right resource, and as we talked about earlier, you can't just hand it over to somebody and be like, "Go." You have to stay engaged. So, it's still going to cost you time, even if you are using this external resource


Question: And so taking it to the next step beyond that, so you've determined that you want to work with a marketing agency, you're figuring out how to do that, what are kind of the rules of the road and the guidelines of what you should do and what you should not do as far as expectations with that relationship?

Answer: Ultimately, you have to decide how you're going to measure your agency. So, how you're going to measure the agencies that you even look at and then how do you measure whoever you choose? Because you have to set up what success looks like, right? And that varies from one brand to the next, from one team to the next. It might even vary from project to project, especially if you are a smaller brand and you are engaging different agencies based on different projects.

I will say even larger brands seem to be engaging other agencies on project work more and more frequently. So, you have to be able to understand like, what exactly is good, what does it look like? I think part of that has to do with understanding what are the things that matter to you as an agency, as a marketer about your agency, and that is going to vary. 

I can't necessarily tell you, here's exactly what you should be looking at. But I think that some of the things that can be helpful to think about are the experience that an agency has and what is their track record? When they have creative ideas, how strategic are they for the brands that they work with? It's being able to think about those things is going to be incredibly helpful. And on top of that, you really need fit.

If you are a super buttoned up kind of team, you don't want a super casual team. You are not going to be happy, you're going to be frustrated over and over again. And so that fits matters, it really matters a lot. Then the final where is cost, what can you really afford? You don't want to get the Rolls Royce if you can really only pay for the GMC.

To learn more from Suzanne's expertise, check out the rest of the interview on our Marketing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) Podcast.

The Next Steps

Want to learn more about effective ways that brands can improve their strategic efforts? Check out these other blog posts we've written on the subject!

Want to learn more from experts across various walks of the marketing landscape? Subscribe to our Marketing Mistakes Podcast and learn tips, strategies and suggestions from the pros!

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