We understand your reality. You’re stuck with shrinking budgets, but bigger goals, and it’s enough to make you want to quit and become a dog walker. But before you buy a van and slap “Wagzz Doggy Daycare” on the side, remember you have an agency that can help you! And here are some ways you can really use them to avoid a career where poop bags are a business expense.

Include them from the start.
Agency folks are professional communicators. You (hopefully) hired them for great thinking and an outside perspective that can take you places you never imagined. But they can’t fully do that if they’re brought in late. It’s like hiring an architect once you’ve poured the foundation and put up some walls.

Add your agency to planning sessions. Let them listen in on strategy presentations. Even if they’re there just to be a fly on the wall, I guarantee their hamster wheels will start spinning and you’ll start seeing more fresh ideas. (Apologies for the weird animal mixed metaphor.) 

Give them your problem, not your solution.
How often do you come to your agency with “I need a print ad for this new product”? That’s a solution. You’ve already predetermined it should be a print ad. But your agency specializes in coming up with ways to communicate things in unexpected, attention-grabbing ways. Maybe they could make the case that direct mail would get the message across better. Maybe it should be a video. Maybe it’s a comic book or a giant inflatable gorilla you float over downtown. Give them the latitude to delight you.

Lean on your agency for a perspective. They will be thrilled at the opportunity and you will likely get back something better than you ever thought.

Let them be creative.
This one goes hand-in-hand with giving them your problem and not your solution. Creative problem solving is what they do. They’re professionals at it. If your agency is thinking “we have this great idea, but the client will never buy it,” then there’s an issue. Are you encouraging them to bring you game changing concepts? Are you prepared to approve them? Otherwise you’re paying for creativity but only getting execution.

Offer more time.
Yes, everyone wants everything faster these days. But at what cost? Agencies are experts at coming up with ideas, so they can work quickly when necessary, but their first idea (or even the 10th) is rarely the best. When you crunch the schedule, you’ll get something. It just may not be the best thing. And everyone wants to do the best thing.

A tip: if you ask your agency how fast they can do a project and they say a week, give them 2 weeks – even if the total hours are close to the same. Advertising is a service business. We try to turn things around quickly. But hearing you offer a bit more time signals you care about quality too – and there’s no better way to get your agency to run through a brick wall for you than that.

Give feedback live.
Outside of, say, randomly choosing Betty White for a Snickers commercial, they usually have reasons for what they do. From word choice in a social post to the line weight on a logo, they’ve made conscious choices. When feedback gets lobbed over the fence, they don’t have a chance to explain those reasons and it becomes exponentially harder for them to do so.

They won’t push back on everything. In fact, most of the feedback you give is spot on – because you’re a smart client and agencies are happy to do things that make the work better and more successful. But there are times when feedback is watering down an idea and they’ll want to be able to talk through, in real time, the ramifications.

Be honest with them.
Agency people are used to feedback. They don’t (or at least try not to) take it personally. It’s actually more frustrating if you pull your punches than if you’re straight with feedback. Feel like they’re mailing it in a bit? Tell them. Did they completely miss the mark? Tell them. Are you in love with an idea and it’s the best thing you’ve seen? Tell them. A client-agency relationship is just that – a relationship. And when two people in a relationship aren’t honest with each other, that inevitably leads to a painful breakup that neither side really wants.

Ask them what they think.
Not sure why I put this one last, because it’s likely the most important. You’ve done a great job hiring a strategic, creative agency to help you. So let them. If there’s one thing an agency is not short on, it’s opinions. And they love it when they’re asked for them.

Ask what they think of the brief you sent over. Ask what their recommendation is in the concept presentation. Ask if they have thoughts on the strategy. Ask for ideas on how to sell an idea to the higher ups. Ask what they would do if they were you. You don’t have to do something with those opinions every time, but you’ll likely be surprised at the interesting, thought-provoking answers you get.

You have an amazing group of smart, creative people whose careers are made by helping you solve your business challenges. Don’t let that talent stay bottled up. There is no limit to the ideas they can come up with to help your business. Make sure you’re not the one limiting them by how you choose to engage with your agency. Unless quitting and becoming a dog walker really is your thing. (And if it is, we’re happy to help with your website.)


Matt is our Creative Director for Copy and Content and a veteran of the ad agency world.