Is your consultant a trusted partner or is it time to see other people?
Finding the perfect agency match for your in-house communications team can mean the difference between having some extra arms and legs or a strategic and critical partner who is invested in your success. Caroline Thomson provides the checklist to find your perfect partners.
It seems quite simple on paper, but the relationship between an agency and an in-house team needs to be based on a strong foundation.
Having spent many years as an embedded ‘quasi-team member’ in a large, in-house corporate communications team, I’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of bringing together people who share common values and a joint sense of pride in their collective achievements.
So here are my seven questions to determine if you and your agency are a perfect match.
1. Do they complement, without competing? The agency should bring skills, experience, ideas and the capacity to complement your in-house team, without trying to out-do you. A good consultant respects that the in-house team knows their business better than anyone — while the in-house team should see the consultant as a true asset.
2. Do they bring objectivity, while remaining invested? One of the most important things a consultant can bring to the table for an in-house team is an outside perspective. The ability to view their issues objectively and challenge the team in a constructive way can be the key to unlocking the solution needed. But this arms-length position can only go so far. It needs to be balanced with loyalty to the team and a genuine shared investment in a good outcome.
3. Are they a supplier or a trusted partner? Does your agency give you what you think you want, or what you actually need? Is their focus on outcomes or billable hours? A consultant should bring the in-house team insights and innovative thinking, rather than just monthly activity statements.
4. Are they there when you need them? This can be a tricky one to manage, particularly in a non-retainer relationship; you can’t expect a consultant to be sitting waiting for the next scope of work from you. But as a minimum, your agency needs to meet agreed deadlines and always strive to over-deliver. And ultimately, when crisis strikes, they need to be willing to move mountains to help you.
5. Do they know you inside out? It is not enough to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. While the in-house team will live and breathe their business every day, a consultant needs to match that with in-depth industry and business knowledge if they’re going to be a valuable member of the team. On the flipside, an in-house team needs to allow a consultant to conduct the necessary research if they want real insights into their business.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. All successful partnerships are built on a foundation of open and honest communication. Are you giving a clear brief? If something isn’t working for you, raise it with your consultant and give them a chance to address the problem. If the goal-posts have changed, let them know and allow them to correct their aim.
7. Is there chemistry? At the end of the day, a significant amount of the success of an in-house/consultant pairing comes down to whether they’re a good fit for your team. Are they good people to work with and do they share your values?
Great partnerships are built on trust, transparency and mutual respect. At Cannings Purple, our partners are at the heart of our business and we constantly test ourselves against these criteria. If you’d like to find out more about how we can support your in-house team, contact us today.