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Four Traits Every Brand Needs From Agency Partners

January 22, 2015

By Danielle Terreri


Many of us spend our career on one side of the table: Brand side or agency side. Expectations are set based on the experiences we have with those on the opposite end. I have spent time on both sides, but most of my experience comes from the agency side. From my time as an agency partner, I’ve come to learn that some brands have very low standards for their agency partners, which leave them with a less than “WOW” experience. A recent conversation with one my clients inspired me to share these four not-so-obvious traits every brand side marketer should expect from their agency partners.

Empathy & Shared Vision

Your agency partner needs to understand the unique pressures of your business as well as the need and desire to accomplish goals. A good partner will take the time to “listen the right way”. This includes identifying the difference between:

  • Sticking points such as protocols and procedures that call for strategic problem resolution.
  • Road blocks that range from decision-makers with a long wait period to unexpected budget cuts.
  • Opportunities, including synergies with other business lines their team is partnering with that you, the client, may not be privy to.

All three of these situations present themselves in similar fashion, but someone with a shared vision and a true partner mentality will be able to identify each, internalize it as their own experience, and act accordingly.

One of our clients here at SME Digital is in the financial sector, so we observe a time period at the end of each quarter where we dial-down communication to basically zero. We make sure that we’ve amply prepared for this time period so we, the agency partner, can plug away without taking the client’s attention away from quarter-end duties. When the clients surface up at the beginning of a new quarter, they can step back into the forward progress without missing a beat. This is an opportunity.

Another client is a large healthcare organization with a very long approval process that involves layers of stakeholders. SME Digital offers three options for every initiative, with varying degrees of quick and long-term wins, for the client to choose from to ensure our sticking point does not become a road block.

Listening Skills

Your ideal agency partner knows when to listen to influence and knows when to strictly listen. Hint: a balance is most effective. A good partner understands this as a fine art and is able to wear both hats at the same time. A good relationship between brand and agency is built on the foundation of trust, respect, and excellence, which cannot be accomplished without the art of effective listening.

Recently, I had a kick-off call for a client project: creating a content hub for a client’s valuable, but sadly still-homeless content. Implementation level 3 was not realistic in the near future due to a few website road blocks, so we were moving forward with level 1, which would allow us a quick win as well as the ability to test content. Our team (client and agency) walked through conditions of satisfaction for this project, questions, and next steps before the client shared a valid risk assessment: Level 1 was a huge undertaking and did not yield the measurement capabilities we identified as the #1 condition of satisfaction. We revisited the implications to ensure our client was able to make an informed decision.

Ultimately, your agency partner is there to support your efforts and pivot on plans as necessary, not to sell you their “big idea” and force it knowing it’s leading you down the wrong path. 


An agency partner should provide you with peace of mind and a sense of security that projects are going to get done efficiently and effectively without you having to oversee everything. Your agency partner should help you focus on other things by acting as a Sherpa; they should have a handle on where a project is, where it’s going, and what it takes to get there, plus the ability to guide the team along the way. This is apparent in project timelines, status sheets, recurring calls, and milestones reached on time.

Another aspect of reliability is knowing that your agency partner understands your vision and will support you in getting there. You may not always agree on the best way to get there, but a partnership is about respect and compromise.


Trust your gut on this one. If you feel like someone is smoke and mirrors, they probably are. There should be no doubt in your mind that your agency partner is authentic, transparent, and realistic. A phony will be defensive and deflect when a problem arises rather than acknowledge, apologize, and act. No one is perfect, but a partner that is genuine and capable is a keeper!

Remember: There’s no room for phonies in a partnership that is going to uplevel your business and make you a marketing rock star.

At the end of the day, any agency should want their clients to be marketing rock stars. In order to reach this status, you need the full picture, commitment, and expertise from your partner.

What are some of the not-so-obvious characteristics, values, and traits you look for in a good agency partner? Please share in the comments section below.

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