Behind Enemy Lines: Your Agency Relationship From The Flip Side (part two)

By Shannon Stull

As we discussed in Part 1 of this article a couple of weeks ago, the agency/client relationship is a touchy issue. The reality of the situation is that in-house designers can see agencies as a threat (and an insult, if we’re being completely honest), and agencies can see in-house teams as road blocks. Neither of these sentiments are actually necessary. There is no reason that both teams cannot become allies in the noble and epic mission to present creative that does not suck. You just need to remember a few things:

No Matter What A Pain Your Department Is, We’ve Seen Worse

I could wrap about ten city blocks with the amount of red tape I’ve encountered throughout the years. Most of us have had to deal with clients at one point or another with bureaucracy levels that rival yours. Do your best, keep us informed as you hear more, and we’ll pick up your project when there’s a green light. You don’t have to apologize for the things that are out of your control. It’s ok, I promise.

The Agency is Not Here to Cheat you out of Budget.

That being said, agencies earn their money through billable time. This is where that over communication also kicks in. If you can’t communicate your organization’s needs effectively, you could get stuck in an endless cycle of revisions that could lead to a very big bill. Make sure that your team is on task (including your leadership), and also make sure that expectations are set in stone.

You should have a clear scope of work, and a timeline that you will stick to. Your agency should produce this for you, but it’s your team’s responsibility to live up to the bargain too. I cannot tell you how many times I encountered a situation in my in-house life in which nit-picky, one-off changes piled up on our agency and resulted in a lot of wasted time and money.

Make Friends

As creatives yourselves, you know how important it is to connect with the people you work with. This doesn’t change when you are two creatives on the other side of the fence. Get some face time. If you have the opportunity, ask your contact to join you for lunch some day and get to know them a bit. When it comes down to it, it’s much easier to ignore an email from a faceless person on the internet, versus that amazing person you just had a drink with last Tuesday. Also, remember that the agency is always a potential employment source, should you find yourself leaving your in-house position some day. It’s all about networking, baby!

Hopefully I had shed some light on a frustrating subject, and made it a little easier to deal with. What do you think? Are there any other issues I missed out on? Let’s discuss.

Shannon Stull is a partner and Creative Director at WHOISCARRUS, a green-certified advertising agency based in Orlando, FL. She has worked in the field of advertising and marketing for more than eight years, with experience on both agency and in-house creative teams. More information about Shannon and her agency’s services such as interactive design, green design, and mobile application design can be found at

3 thoughts on “Behind Enemy Lines: Your Agency Relationship From The Flip Side (part two)

  1. robb kramer

    nit-picky yes! We now have a development cycle that is 14 months for a single publication, largely due to constant revision. The costs are invisible to the customer because we are in-house. If I could bill like an agency, the pub would have died two years ago because of cost. In some ways, it’s good the cost isn’t seen (I’d have less work) in other ways, it makes it very hard to produce excellent creative—just too many compromises.

    As for meeting outside agencies, we rarely even know who they are and what projects they are given; that’s how compartmentalized things can get. All good advice in this article, though.

  2. Marcia

    As a Creative Director in house, I too have had to deal with agencies. I agree with Robb when he states that usually we don’t even know what they are doing. I have the double duty of two agencies since I actually work for two companies. Both agencies send requests for photos and graphics with a one day turnaround and don’t really seem to realize we are under deadlines also. It would be okay if it was one or two things, but they will decide that their lower ranking creative folk will look for photos on our database and think requesting 200 images for the next day is not RIDICULOUS!

    It would be great if the agencies would call and talk through what they are requesting. And when they send files, it would be great if they were actually able to be printed! I can’t tell you how many times I have received files that I have to go through and re-layout in order for them to be printed.
    Ah well, my beef.

    1. Shannon Stull

      Yikes! That’s a lot of requests from the agencies you work with. Have you considered setting up a database that would allow log-in and access for downloads from the agency team members themselves, so that you can avoid being the middle man?

      Also, there are ways to make partnerships with certain printing companies that will allow portal development for your company. This could be a set of assets that other vendors could access, as well as where they could potentially upload printing files directly so the printer can handle the re-working, rather than you. As a Creative Director, I’m sure you have better things to do than to send 200 images and re-size files! I would appeal to your company to outsource some of these production-y things so that you can focus on what you’re great at – creative and brand strategy!

      Additionally, is there a way to appeal to your upper management to increase your visibility with the agencies? I bet if you put together a short doc that showed the amount of time you spend fielding requests, versus how much time you would save by having the agency discussions and statuses regularly, then perhaps they may be more open to it?