The relationship between an in-house team and an external agency is rarely simple. Having worked in marketing and communications for several years, I have witnessed a variety of challenges that come from navigating this complicated dynamic. The two groups should be working for another, both driving toward the same goal. However, in reality it can often feel like they’re crossing paths.
Whether it’s an endless cycle of sign-off stages or various versions of the same press release going back and forth until you find yourself on version 18 (I’ve seen this happen), it’s easy to wonder if there are perhaps simply too many cooks in the email thread. And what you are left with is a game of proverbial ping pong (a to me, to you type scenario) in which no one takes any real action, no progress is made and there are definitely no Chuckles..
Ultimately there needs to be one leader to rule them all, as it were, and to bind them. By them, I do of course mean the two teams — and yes, that was a lame attempt at a Lord of the Rings reference…
It’s not only disagreements between external and internal comms teams that you may have to contend with, but also the tensions between the internal team itself. Nothing quite matches the level of awkwardness felt during a conference call or meeting as when you witness a breakdown of communication between the internal communications team with whom you are working. Suddenly you realise that the difficulty in your relationship with them is mirrored in the disagreements they have within their own team.
Perhaps my Britishness may be showing here, but good grief, you’d think they’d have these conversations in private rather than opting for a public showdown or shouting match with their colleagues. So much for not airing your dirty laundry! Surely, you’d want to appear united and professional to the comms or PR agency with which you are working.
These issues may stem from either a lack of definitive leadership or an abundance of unnecessary bureaucracy. Either way, they are completely counter-intuitive to productivity (resulting in the aforementioned version 18). My advice: one point of contact. A spokesperson for the internal comms team that directly deals with the point of contact for the external agency. A person with the authority to veto bad decisions, and more importantly, to approve the good ones. Whether you call them the project manager, the account manager or the ‘head’ of the department, there has to be a voice of reason in all the madness.
Bringing together your in-house comms or marketing team and your external agency may feel like a delicate dance when you have to tackle a tangle of personalities and priorities but if you learn the steps, you can tango your way to success.