Setting Agency Guardrails: 4 Tips for Success

By Jacek Chrusciany, CEO and Founder, Adfidence

The dance between brands and the agencies they employ has always been a delicate one. At its best, it’s a synchronized performance, smooth and in step. At its worst, it’s a stumble of missed rhythms and steps – where the work becomes transactional and success is more about avoiding failure than reaching success.

For many brands, burned out by one too many agency relationships gone sour, they’ve taken the work entirely in-house. (The ANA reported in 2023 that 82 percent of its members had in-house agencies, up from 58 percent just 10 years prior.)

Yet, those brands that prefer to work with agencies recognize the invaluable insights and perspective that external expertise can bring. The secret to harnessing lies in setting up the relationship right, right from the start, beginning with robust contract negotiations. Here are four tips for brands to establish these parameters:

Work with procurement to set up smart contracts

The cornerstone of any successful business partnership is a well-crafted contract. It should articulate not only deliverables and timelines, but also expectations around campaign quality, brand safety, and of course, roles and responsibilities. It’s the place where brands can clearly set the stage for accountability and ensure everyone is aligned on goals and how to achieve them.

Of course, things can change once a relationship gets off the ground, especially in the world of digital advertising, where campaigns can quickly veer off course. By embedding regular quality assessments into contracts, brands can ensure that campaigns stay aligned with their initial goals. These check-ins enable quick adjustments and optimizations when needed.

Focus on positive incentives vs. punishment

Traditional contract models often focus on penalties for failing to meet standards; however, a more progressive approach is to reward agencies for exceeding quality benchmarks. It can do wonders in transforming the agency’s motivation. It also fosters a culture of improvement and aligns agency efforts more closely with brand objectives.

With this construct, brands can recognize their agency partners for taking proactive steps to ensure campaign success, whether that’s employing advanced targeting techniques or conducting thorough pre-campaign safety checks. This approach helps agencies prioritize the brand’s long-term success and strive beyond mere contractual obligations.

Use advanced technology for better oversight and impact

Modern advertising requires modern solutions. The ecosystem has become too complex for manual oversight alone. By automating the campaign setup governance process, brands and their agencies can better partner to identify and address potential issues swiftly. It takes the weight off the shoulders of agency media buyers and reduces the risk of brand safety incidents. Moreover, eliminating ad setup errors can step-change the results of advertising.

It also enables and unlocks a broader set of data to work with. The advanced analytics and diagnostic tools help brands refine targeting strategies, optimize ad spend, and improve overall campaign effectiveness. Ideally, brands state the need for these tech solutions in the contract as well.

Commit to ongoing training and communication

For these types of guardrails to be effective, both brand and agency teams need to be in lock step on campaign objectives and understand nuances, brand ambitions, risks and safety considerations, and the tools and platforms in use. Regular training sessions on these tools and platforms, along with open lines of communication, can maintain this alignment and help to address any issues or needed adjustments.

This kind of ongoing education and collaboration helps both parties stay on top of the latest trends, tools, and strategies. Agencies can showcase the latest of their expertise, while brands can gain deeper trust in the relationships. And a nice coffee or cocktail hour between the teams after never hurts.

By following these tips, brands do more than just improve their digital advertising efforts—they enable a stronger, more transparent and healthier dynamic with media agencies. Brands and agencies can flourish together, building partnerships that drive long-term success and prioritize brand integrity.