March ADness: Turn Multi-Ad Agency Rosters into High Performance Teams

“To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”

– Mike Krzyzewski

Advertising in 2015: Team Sport

By design or default, it doesn’t matter. Growing companies and leading brands today sign up multiple ad agencies and marketing communication suppliers to create, produce, and distribute brand content designed to engage their targeted consumers. Companies spend an average of 18% of their total Budget on Outsourced Agency, Vendor and Consulting Spending; CEB, 2014.

With multiple advertising agency partners working across the client organization in various ways, marketing leaders can seem as fickle as owners who trade players for quick fixes. Adding to the complexity, companies continue to build internal marketing capability with personnel that create brand content and concurrently engage outside suppliers in the process. Sometimes the locker room feels a little crowded.

Clients can coach multiple agency teams with star power. Entrepreneurial, collaborative ad agencies can play and win. Building team culture just takes a little sweat.

Championship Seasons

Companies with a game plan for integrating their multiple agency resources achieve the highest level outcomes. CMOs that orchestrate their multiple ad agency relationships in ways that the rest of their marketing organization understands and utilizes are the most successful.

A progressive approach for multi-ad agency management is to build a roster framework to align with the company organizational structure and meet its business requirements; this approach dedicates agencies or teams in a logical but highly accountable way; i.e., by brand, distribution channel, P & L, regional focus, or segmentation strategy. A company’s digital or media strategy can be the organizing principle for its roster of agency relationships. A project-based approach to engaging agencies however, can create greater internal conflict and confuse priorities across the parties.

When a company’s go-to-market strategy shapes the agency line-up, roster agencies benefit from knowing the strategic context for marketing /advertising activity and their respective roles and responsibilities. When the client roster of agencies has accumulated over time, bubble agencies clamor for work and game fatigue sets in.


Regardless of the strategy for roster design, all parties benefit from best practices in agency resource management. Fundamental practices like Clear Roles & Responsibilities, Clear Brand Guidelines, Clear Defined Project Goals, Clear Measures of Accountability, and Fair Compensation make common sense but are hard to master.

The optimal balance of capability support with economies of scale across multiple ad agency resources is achieved with better teaming and integration.

Jump Ball

A frequently cited approach to agency integration is “We just get everyone in the same room and figure it out.”

While face to face communication is great, agency supplier integration is further enabled by a defined workflow process and system, including a means by which related parties stay informed of the others’ activities as well as attuned to inevitable changes in the game plan. Inter-dependencies and client approval are sub-process points that add clarity to roster-wide integration. Standardized client strategic briefs go a long way to getting everyone studying from the same play book.


In an ideal model, every agency has a specific competency and secure place on the roster. This rarely exists. Sometimes clients activate multiple agency resources on their roster to solicit a range of ideas or pick the best player to deliver the scope.

The key to healthy competition among roster agencies is transparency of process supported by clear briefs and well defined evaluative criteria. But it’s not without risk: Even if roster agencies are compensated for development efforts, the overuse of inter-agency competitive practices can cause infighting and undermine teamwork.

Drive the Lane

When client-side chaos reigns, or a change of marketing leadership is imminent, an established agency can take the lead and organize other marcom suppliers and agencies. In a worst case scenario they draw a foul, but more often than not, the collective group and the client organization will appreciate knowing who is responsible for what and adopt the model that allows agencies to work better together.

Agencies can also collaboratively partner to bring to their clients executional solutions that require multiple vendors. Sub-contracting to vetted affiliates can increase an agency’s perceived value within a client organization, especially with those companies that shy away from complex big and innovative ideas.

Keeping Score

What is measured matters. In addition to individual agency performance metrics, shared metrics should be identified, measured and reported. Shared data like retail transactions, web traffic, online leads, social engagement, ROI for campaigns, et al, can serve to align the full team in the same direction.

The review of work product often reveals team fragmentation or cohesion. Clients that periodically review the collective creative product being completed on their behalf will see strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for increased roster integration towards sharper brand building. Client marketing councils function as a high-level brand strategy and creative review forums; quarterly reviews should include agency partners.

Still not working?

Often barriers to client-agency teaming exist: these can be structural, financial and cultural. Work to break down barriers to team integration with a better game plan.

  • Structurally, who has the “D”? In addition to practices and process, it’s important to identify clear decision roles. Meetings to make decisions only go so far, and the meter runs. A designated client team leader can functions as the agency liaison to communicate and implement standard practices across agency suppliers, increase integration, and ensure consistency with brand standards. A designated team captain from one agency can be the person responsible for making sure the partner agencies worked together proactively.
  • Financially, how much? Agencies need fair, adequate compensation to hire top tier talent and produce competitively superior work; multiple approaches to agency compensation should be revised to provide equitable terms, rates, and well defined financial practices; minimal variables will reduce inefficiencies and conflicts that occur in a multiple vendor environments. Clients also need financial protection from duplicative efforts that come from multiple agencies working together.
  • Culturally, play nice? Positive attitudes and productive behaviors need to be recognized and rewarded, wins celebrated together. A performance-based culture rewards those partners who consistently and collaboratively deliver results; a culture of accountability often encourages best effort. Counter-productive or subversive behaviors need to be called out with a warning. Formal and informal constructive feedback as to where an agency can improve the process of working collaboratively allows any agency to function at a higher level.

Hoop Dreams
The thrill of March basketball comes from its high stakes, do or die nature of the competition. It’s not a best of seven series. We can’t text in a vote to save our favorite team. Only winners move forward. Despite the undeniable athleticism of each player, the essence of performance comes from their mad love of the game and their mutual respect for each other. It shows in the seamless integration of skills that sometimes defy the laws of physics to accomplish together what one person cannot.

Therein lies our best lesson.

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