(Published on 7 November, 2013 by BrandRepublic and also part of the October 2013 SoDA report)

This article was originally inspired by a client conversation, and its first draft was called, “The Best Agency: Two Guys and a Bong” Saner heads prevailed.

Brands and marketers want deeper partnerships with their agencies…but realizing that goal can be elusive.  The good news is that agencies are changing – many are shifting to a team-centric “Agile” model which speeds innovation cycles and can provide better results, faster, at a more competitive price.  As a brand manager or marketer, you’ll want to shift your model slightly as well, in order to better take advantage of these changes.

Understanding the “Two Guys and a Bong” Agency Model

One of the largest dilemmas that agencies face is growth.  While a ten-person agency can operate with its management functions as part-time roles, once an agency grows to twenty or so people, full-time management roles (such as account, project management, and discipline leadership) become the norm, and at that point the agency’s effectiveness begins to decline.  Almost every agency leader we speak with agrees that growing bigger has meant getting slower, less nimble, and losing a bit of their “edge.”

This is a huge concern to established agencies because starting up a new agency has never been easier than it is today.  Top talent often leaves one day and competes the next day against their former agency.  Being small, these startups compete on cost, for sure, but they also boast the ability to partner well, working closely with their marketer clients on a day-to-day basis.  One agency executive recently lamented, “It seems some of our toughest competition is ‘two guys and a bong!’”

The established agencies are responding to this by re-organizing into flatter, self-empowered teams of 8-20 cross-discipline roles – essentially creating multiple “Two Guys” agencies within.  This approach is often labeled “Agile” both because of the methods involved, but also because these teams are more responsive to marketer’s needs, delivering results better, faster and leaving everyone much happier.

Marketers get the best of both worlds: “Two Guys” style of attention, focus and interaction, combined with the established agency’s depth, breadth and quality of talent, and its ability to scale and integrate larger, broader work.  If you find yourself with the opportunity to work with this type of agency team, here are some changes you’ll need to get used to…and even enjoy.

You’ll Brief the Agency Team, not Agency Management

The “Team” is the people who actually build what you receive: creatives, strategists, analysts, developers, etc.  When you tell your account person what you need, like the “telephone game”, information quality drops as it is passed along.  The same is true for writing briefs, SOWs or change orders – nothing works better than people talking directly with each other.  An Agile agency team will want to work directly with you – no middlemen.  And chances are you’ll find it fun and empowering.  We had one marketer tell us, “They [the agency] feel like my right hand now.”

You’ll Meet Early and Often, and Need to Tolerate Incompleteness

Collaboration means working together frequently well before the deadline.  You would do that with the “Two Guys” in order to make sure that they “got it”, right?  Frequent (informal) reviews will boost quality and the Agile team’s engagement…and yours too.  Make sure they know that you’re okay with looking at incomplete ideas and work.  They’ll still try to crush it, but they’ll be grateful that you’re a friend not foe, and you’ll be grateful that they’ve gotten some sleep and your comments aren’t life or death to them.

You’ll Get Better at What You Do, Too

Not only will your agency get better at working with you, but also you’ll get better at working with agencies – that’s a vital career skill for any marketer.  One of the tragedies of large brand-agency relationships is the distance between the people who are really doing the work (the agency Team) and the people in the brand marketing organization.  In the Agile “Two Guys” model, as a marketer, you’ll learn new things every time you meet with your agency Team – they are a hotbed of the latest, trending ideas and technologies.  Keeping up to date with them will not only put you ahead of your peers, but give you the knowledge and real-world experiences of how to actually do this stuff.