Almost all companies, large and small, hire creative agencies at various moments. There are a number of reasons for this. Agencies typically specialize in certain areas that would be too expensive for a brand to manage on its own. For example, agencies are helpful for focusing on new company or product launches. Agencies also offer an outside perspective and a breadth of knowledge across industries and trends, as well expertise in producing certain types of advertising content, such as TV commercials.

The first time my company, ThirdLove, used an external agency was for a campaign in the fall of 2018.

We launched the "To Each Her Own" campaign, which was meant to show a differentiated message, point of view, and creative expression within the bra industry. The agency helped us create a new manifesto -- which ultimately was translated to a TV commercial that ran in 15-, 30-, and 60-second spots. We also did our first out-of-home advertising with the assets, across subway stations and billboards in New York City.

The campaign was a great success.

However, we learned some hard lessons that first time around as well. We learned that even when working with an outside partner, we are still responsible for how the entire campaign gets executed and communicated across all mediums. An agency might do TV really well, but it might not be focused on how the TV strategy integrates with the rest of the brand assets--on the website, on social media, etc. 

That's the company's job.

So, there are two important components of working with an outside agency. First, is it the right partner for the goal you're looking to accomplish? And second, how can you best work together to ensure you get the most out of its efforts?

1. Set clear expectations in your brief about what you're trying to achieve and assess agencies based on that.

Are you doing a launch campaign, a direct-response commercial, or out-of-home advertising to increase brand awareness? Think about your main key performance indicators (KPIs) and advertising platforms and create a brief that outlines what your goals are.

From there, do your research and ask your network for recommendations for agencies that are best-in-class for your industry, size of company, and type of campaign. Not all agencies will be a good match, and you don't want to waste your time or theirs. 

Be clear about your goals from the beginning, and that will go a long way to getting the results you desire. 

2. Agency partners must be collaborative (and actions speak louder than words).

It's one thing to work with an impressive agency that has won creative awards, or done work with globally recognized brands. But it's another to work with an agency that is right for your team and your company's culture. 

Not every campaign is going to be successful. But it's important to understand what makes a campaign successful or not. An important quality of an agency partner is its ability to objectively understand why missteps happen, and the lessons to be learned when they do. You want to get a sense of how the people you're going to be working with think and approach problems, and whether they are going to be a partner that takes accountability, and helps rectify anything that goes wrong. 

It's important to choose an agency that is not concerned with how it can use your brand to achieve one of it goals, and instead to find a partner that truly wants to build something together. If an agency doesn't want to hear your opinion, or thinks it knows your brand better than you do, that's a big red flag.

3. Whatever agency you choose to work with, it's crucial that you regularly check-in on its progress and efforts.

This is true of any outside vendor. You only get out of the engagement what you put into it.

Check-in calls, weekly or biweekly status updates--whatever mechanism you and your team use to remain on the same page with the agency and its team, it is a key component of being successful together. Especially when you're working with a creative firm, it's going to want feedback after each step in the process. So making sure you provide that thoughtful feedback on time, and being honest with the agency along the way, is what will ensure you don't end up at the finish line disappointed.