9 Tips for how Marketers can better work with Agencies

A Conversation with Richard Burjaw on how average marketers can achieve above average results by engaging the brains around them; Former VP of Marketing at PepsiCo.

By Manoj Raheja

If we looked at all the Marketers in the world and assessed their level of smartness then we’d likely come out with some type of bell curve where there is a top 10%, a bottom 10%, and a whole lot of average in between.  But just because we have an average brain, does it mean we have to have average marketing careers?   Absolutely not according to Richard Burjaw.  While Richard is not a current client, it won’t stop us from making sure that his helpful advice reaches our readers. 

While I was building my marketing fundamentals as a Brand Manager at PepsiCo, Richard was a Vice President.  He actually worked much more with my Sister (yes…Pepsi continues to sponsor many of our family events), but in my short time in his department I was always impressed with his down to earth approach and collaborative style.  We recently got back in touch and he shared with me a presentation he had created with Jack Neary, Chief Creative Officer at TBWA. 

The presentation is in the context that even if you are an average client, you still have the ability to motivate and engage a broader network of thinkers around you, to ultimately get to above average results.  I know if you could hear Richard deliver this live he would continually stress that the only reason he was able to achieve above average results is because he had amazing thinkers around him to help get him there.  Without further ado – the 9 tips from Richard on how average Marketers can get above average results.

1.    Get the right agency

  • “Is there chemistry?  Is their expertise appropriate?  Do they have any conflicts? Can they show prior results and/or provide references where they built businesses?”
  • “You have to balance tenure and turnover; we both value the former over the latter; If you keep changing agencies, then you’re the problem – not the agency”

2.    Focus on Insights and Ideas

  • “It’s all you need!  They are difficult things to find and they don’t always occur in order.”
  • “Both client and agency provide the content.  You need to arrive at a ‘problem’ requiring a solution; don’t ask the agency to “…just give me some billboards””

3.    Remember, it’s all your fault*

  • “You get what you deserve.  Share the credit and take ALL the blame.  Good advertising cannot fix a bad idea.”
  • “You are the leader and the manager of this relationship so you are accountable for setting expectations and defining success.  The agency can’t force you to do anything.”

* In some organizations this approach to business will inhibit your career

4.    Know your agency

  • “Know their business; find out how they make money.  Help them make money!  Get into the creative process; learn production, media, billing, etc.”
  • “Time and money are the only two variables that matter and it’s critical you know how your agency balances those two resources.  Make sure the procurement guys don’t smash all the furniture in the first meeting; it’s really bad for morale”

5.    Know yourself

  • “Know your business – consumer, customer, competitor, company, and category”
  • “Know your style and preferences; e.g. extravert, etc.  What do you consider ‘great work’? What is their version?”
  • “Agency is doctor/detective/lawyer/mechanic, etc. for you business; tell them everything”
  • “Map out the internal politics of who can say ‘no’ and who can say ‘yes’ on briefs, strategy, creative, etc.”
  • “Be aware of the annual planning in your business (its ‘cadence’) so you don’t surprise the agency.”

6.    Write great briefs

  • “Define the problem in need of a solution.  Provide the meaningful insight”
  • “Always set the goal of advertising to be ‘selling more stuff’ (or something like that).  If there are other ‘factors’ at work – like franchisee acceptance – be sure to spell that out…And don’t hold back on the context – e.g. if we don’t get to a 5 share of market they’re selling the brand, etc.”

7.    Don’t be a jerk

  • “Being the VP of Bubbly Drinks doesn’t make you Mensa material”
  • “Have outside interests because they provide fodder for ideas”
  • “You’re in business (of some kind) so read ‘the classics’ like Positioning (Ries and Trout), Competitive Strategy (Porter), Ogilvy On Advertising, Good To Great (Collins), Practice What You Preach (Maister), Covey’s ‘7 Habits’, etc.”

8.    Be a good partner

  • “That means sharing the spoils (see: ‘The King’s Speech’).  That’s your compensation model.  Your agency compensation model should reflect your own employee performance review process and standards.  Ideally that’s a fair process that objectively attributes cause and effect”

9.    Learning by failing

  • “There is no failure, just learning.  If you’ve practiced the previously mentioned behaviours you’ll develop institutional knowledge and learning agility.  There are lots of great quotes on this subject but no one is perfect; although years of getting it wrong can be a problem!”

So whether you think you’re top tier, bottom tier, or a whole lot of average – I think we can all agree that we strive for above average results!  We’d love to hear from marketers and agency folks alike, any comments or builds on Richard’s 9 tips.  Now stop being a jerk and go give your agency a hug  :).

If you like our speaker series – check out the last one which showcases my conversation with Jen Davidson from Molson Coors Canada and her 7 Tips to bring Freshness to your Brand.

At SW+A, we strive to inspire our clients; but we often find ourselves inspired by them.  “Conversations with Marketing Leaders” is all about paying it forward to our readers.  In this series, you’ll be exposed to fresh and forward thinking from a number of Marketing Leaders – each of whom we are proud to call our clients. We hope you enjoy it!