How engagement agreements improve your agency interactions

Engagement Agreements

I remember about 10 years ago, being engaged by a marketing team to work with a well known management consulting firm who had been brought in by senior management to restructure and improve the marketing process. The interesting observation was that rather then customising the structure and process to the strategic requirements, the management firm had a six-sigma developed process that they tried to impose on the marketing team in the interest of best practice.

What I also observed was there was little commitment from the marketing team to the process. The problem appeared to be there was little or no recognition that the current process was obviously functional. The team were not consulted to assist in determining the best way to improve the process of engagement between the internal team and marketing.

It was around this time that we developed the Engagement Agreement process.

The role of SLAs and KPIs in process

Around the time we commenced in using the Engagement Agreement process, I was also reviewing a large number of agency services agreements, that all contained either SLAs (Service Level Agreements) or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Many of the marketing and procurement people we were talking with seemed to believe that these contract clauses would assist in managing and improving agency process and performance.

There are two things that are misguided about this belief:

  1. Most SLAs and KPIs are based on the assumption that the performance of the agency is simply due to the agency alone. But this fails to recognise that the strategic and creative components are co-created and that the performance of the agency is directly impacted by the performance of the marketer.
  2. Many of the KPIs and SLA clauses I have reviewed do not go to the core of the process purpose and are often superficial and inconsequential and therefore have little or no impact on process or performance improvement.

Even as recently as last year a major corporation procurement team wanted me to sign a contract that would financially penalise us if we did not return phone calls within 2 hours 99.5% of the time. I was curious to see if the clause would be reciprocal (NO), wondered who would be monitoring the time lag between the call and the response time (NO ANSWER) and what impact on project performance did they expect from the KPI (NO IDEA).

KPIs and SLAs are great for places like call centres (where they were first used) but in complex relationships based on interactions and contributions from multiple parties to deliver the outcome they are far too 2-dimensional.

The Engagement Agreement Process

The Engagement Agreement process is a facilitated workshop involving all of the key stakeholders involved in the process. The workshop is a collaborative process that is facilitated to achieve three key outcomes:

  1. Identify the core areas of interaction and engagement and prioritise these
  2. Map the current processes and allocate roles and responsibilities at each step
  3. Collectively review the current process to identify bottlenecks, duplications and inefficiencies

It is the collective and collaborative process that aligns the participants in defining the current process and diagnosing the issues. Participation in the process leads to a high level of commitment and commences the movement of the alignment process to deliverable.

The process has been used and developed by Sally Webster, Lecturer in PR and Marketing at Victoria University, who has been recognised with a National Citation for her work with Engagement Agreements.

An example of the benefits

Several months after a pitch we managed, I was contacted by the marketing team who asked if we could help sort out tension that had developed very quickly between the brand team and the new agency.

One of the issues was that, like many marketers post the appointment of the new agency, the marketing team simply leaped back into executing the marketing plan without actually engaging the agency in their expectations or agreeing on how to engage. (We had offered to undertake the Engagement Agreement but both the agency and marketers felt it was not needed.)

The Engagement Agreement process defined the areas of regular interaction including annual planning, campaign development and the like, but someone highlighted that the most tension was caused by the day to day interactions between the brand team, who were under high levels of pressure, and the agency.

In the workshop discussion it was discovered that because of time pressure the marketing team would regularly resort to email. And because the client was in the outer suburbs, face to face meetings were kept to a minimum. And as everyone was so busy it was almost impossible to find time for telephone discussions.

In discussions between the marketing team and the new creative agency it was found that this is where many of the tensions were rising. Emails were often misinterpreted leaving the agency confused.

The result of the workshop was that collectively they designed some basic rules of communication including the use of email, phone discussions and face to face meetings.

The result of this simple innovation was dramatic.

Just as Sally Webster saw an application of the Engagement Agreement process with her students, can you see anywhere in your business where this approach could give you better engagement with those you work with, either internally or externally?

Let me know by leaving a comment here.