How to avoid collaboration nightmares at your agency

Q&A with Suzanne Baran, senior director of content at Single Grain

As the media landscape rapidly changes, agencies recognize that better collaboration is no longer a luxury; it’s crucial to continued success. What are the collaborative challenges from an agency’s perspective? I met up with Single Grain’s senior director of content Suzanne Baran for insights on how agencies can break out of silos, improve workflow and reach their end product.

What’s your role at the agency?

Currently, I am a senior director of content strategy and content marketing at Single Grain LLC, a boutique agency specializing in PPC, SEO and content marketing services for a host of B2B and B2C clients in various verticals. During my 15 year career, I have driven content strategy and marketing for brands such as Yahoo!, AT&T, Cisco, Sony, Scottrade, POM Wonderful, DirecTV, FIJI Water, Cuties, Intel, California Psychics, AVG, The Hollywood Reporter, TakePart Media and SpinMedia. Most recently I worked at SapientNitro on Toyota, MGM and Intel accounts.

What are some of the main collaboration challenges between agencies and clients?

Clients will provide solutions, then agencies offer up a list of problems or issues. This is where the lines become crossed and roles skewed. It’s the agency’s job to set appropriate expectations, educating the client on solutions and becoming a solutions architect/partner.

The agency sets the tone for all client interaction. Setting distinct guidelines upfront is helpful. This lets clients know they can let loose on a litany of issues and problems. The agency is there to help – either guiding clients toward intuitively fixing problems or offering actionable items and implementing solutions. At times, an agency rushes to create a brand overhaul when a client isn’t ready for such aggressive action. Education and information is tantamount to client communication success.

How does your agency overcome these challenges?

Recently, we revised our internal production processes and strive to be over-communicative and hands on. We don’t wait to schedule follow-up meetings. We have actual dialogue with clients on the spot to help them solve their issues such as 301 redirects, optimizing landing pages, walking them through CMS set up, SEO clean up, content ideation and more.

Another advantage of our agency is that we’re nimble, eager to share knowledge and admit when we aren’t sure of the correct solution. Our transparency helps the client to trust us. Other agencies have a tendency to provide a shoddy response in reaction to a client query and not take the time to ask for help from others or external partners and resources to fill in knowledge gaps.

What are some of the internal collaborations challenges among the teams?

Breaking down silos and creating a more collaborative board of experts – that’s always a challenge! Being flexible and able to eschew tunnel vision in favor of teamwork and knowing company and client priorities is difficult but necessary for growth. Our current teams have weekly meetings to air issues and discuss solutions. We also include weekly learning presentations from various team members for knowledge enhancement. This encourages lively discussion and a better sense of what each ‘service / department specialist’ is working on and the trials they face.

What are your collaboration success stories – either agency/client or internally within your agency?

The more one conquers from within, the more united is the team. This helps the client feel secure and part of that team. Client retention is fostered by tight-knit teamwork and constant communication and handholding – internally and externally.

Self-actualization has a ripple effect. If individuals strive to grow and forego ego, team members soon ride the wave, so to speak. It’s a philosophical mindset that resonates on a profound level in everything we do.

Do you have advice for clients to help the collaboration process?

Know that success isn’t overnight. The Field of Dreams adage, “build it and they will come,” doesn’t apply to digital platforms and traffic generation. It takes time and careful planning, trial and error and an openness and willingness to be experimental and flexible.

How about advice for agencies to improve?

Conquer the ego-driven mindset. Embrace the notion that client success is our shared success, not simply an agency win. Create a more open work environment that puts all employees on equal footing. All too many times in my career I have worked with creative directors who exemplified initiative and innovation, but acted like self-made rock stars who were never accountable and pointed fingers at employees when mistakes were made.

Emphasize contributions made by individuals, not job titles or positions within the organization. Employees need to work better side-by-side, on an informal basis, to achieve common goals.

Follow Suzanne Baran @baraness75 .

Post by Roger Park

Roger Park is a writer and marketing consultant based in Los Angeles. Previously he was the blog editor for the YP corporate blog and a staffer on the Yahoo! search marketing blog. He also served as the news editor for iMediaConnection. His articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Wired, LA Weekly, Los Angeles magazine and various publications.