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

By Shannon Stull

About six months ago, I penned an article about working with agencies from an in-house perspective. Today, I am on the other side of the fence. After working in-house for almost six years, I have joined the opposition as a creative director and partner at a small agency. Though I have fallen to the dark side, this experience has given me new insight to share with you regarding building and maintaining this delicate agency/client relationship.  The following is the first part of two articles that explore some tips and insight to help you both play nice.

Over-Communicate with Us.

In my first guest post on this subject, I received some very valid feedback from an InHowse guest named Dave. He expressed frustration that his agency partner was really hard to get a hold of. When you are working with agencies (especially large ones), sometimes this can happen. The key is to be persistent, and to assert yourself as a leader. Call and email until you get a hold of them, and then lay out your expectations for communication. A good way to do this is to create a standing weekly meeting to catch up. Come to the meeting with an agenda so you can maximize your time. Additionally, ask specifically who your contact should be, and maintain regular communication with them as well.

Send Us Your Ideas

I touched on this in my original article, but it bears repeating. Not all agencies appreciate outside creative input, but I certainly do. Sometimes bouncing your ideas off of other creatives will really help them understand what your expectations are, and maybe some of the things you are open to that we wouldn’t have anticipated. Also send us examples of stuff you love. Not because you want us to copy it, but because you want us to capture an essence that may not come across through words alone.

Agencies Are Not Hired To Do Things “The Way They’ve Always Been”

This is a tough one for in-house creatives to embrace. Not because they aren’t unbelievably capable and willing to produce original ideas, but because years of working within the gentle confines of their brand standards guides have often lessened the fight.  I’ve also found that even when in-house creatives can produce some great off-the-wall ideas, for some maddening reason their leadership doesn’t always recognize this. Thus, the agency is hired.

As a Creative Director, I find nothing more frustrating than getting push back that sounds something like this ” They’ll never go for that” or “We always use (insert color here) because our numbers show this is most effective.”  This is where you should encourage your team to let go. We’ve received direction from you and from your leaders, and we will interpret that information as they have asked. Things change. Businesses change, and your creative needs have changed.That’s why we were hired. Just remember; this your chance to forget everything you’ve been told, too. Working with us means you have a clean slate. Let’s do something crazy, beautiful, and unexpected together.

That’s it for this week. Check back in a few weeks for Part 2 of this article, and learn more about making your agency a partner in crime.

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

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