Navigating a Multi-Vendor Landscape

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Remember the good old days when your marketing team only had one agency relationship to manage?

We don’t either – that was a long time ago! For most in-house teams, managing numerous agencies has been the norm for years. Some of our larger clients employ different agencies for branding, web, creative production, PR, social media, PPC, SEO, and event marketing. That means having a lot of different balls in the air on any given day.

To be sure, there are benefits to engaging a series of specialists instead of a single agency of record. Given the proliferation of new channels and lead gen strategies in the digital age, it requires a wide range of capabilities to run a 24/7 marketing program.

We’ve been navigating the multi-vendor landscape on the agency side for years. That means experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this (not so) new world. And the good news is that when it’s good, it’s really good. Watching a carefully-selected batch of talent-laden agencies excel individually while contributing to the overall success of the client can be a highly rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Here’s three simple tips for engineering success in the multi-vendor landscape:

1. Create opportunities for your vendors to interact. Last year one of our clients hosted an inter-agency summit at our office. The client presented his overall vision for the year and allotted time for each agency to present how their distinct project goals and objectives would support that vision. This gave each agency the opportunity to discover how they could complement each other’s efforts, and ensure an efficient approach to serving the client. This type of gathering also provides an opportunity to discuss overall industry trends and potential challenges facing the client. That meeting of the minds took several hours (and no small expenditure of billable hours) but it set us all up for success, vendors and clients alike.

2. Write a comprehensive creative brief encompassing all agencies. This is a simple step but an oft-overlooked one. While submitting a creative brief to each agency covering their specific role is essential, an overall brief demonstrating the broader plan equips the agencies to identify potential redundancies and communicate better with other vendors. When cross-functional collaboration is required between agencies, try to map out key points of interaction during the project lifecycle and include them in the brief.

3. Understand the full capabilities of every agency in your roster. In this highly specialized landscape, clients are sometimes quick to pigeonhole agencies and overlook their other capabilities, to their own detriment. We experienced this for ourselves when we sub-contracted an agency partner for SEO services, only to discover much later that they were also highly skilled at web development, a discipline we had been augmenting from other partners during extra busy seasons. By understanding the full range of your agencies’ services, you can streamline your agency roster and prevent the unnecessary onboarding of new vendors with redundant capabilities.

Suffice to say, the multi-vendor landscape is here to stay. By approaching vendor management with intentionality, you can maximize the potential for effective collaboration and growth.

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