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July 1, 2016

The Agile Marketing Principle In-House Agencies Need

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“Outside agencies are reviewed routinely by their clients, but in-house agencies do not always have a process in place to solicit feedback from their internal business partners.”

This quote, from a recent edition of the In-House Agency Forum’s quarterly recap, really got us thinking: what can in-house agencies do to get better feedback from their stakeholders?

The answer is to take a page from the agile marketing playbook: retrospective meetings that help in-house teams respond to changes and iterate quickly. These retrospectives are opportunities for collaboration, not just taking orders. The agile retrospective is the one principle in-house teams can follow to be more productive and effective in building on feedback.

For a Better Perspective, Try a Retrospective

The conventional approach to assessing agency performance — whether in-house or out — has been to deploy satisfaction surveys to client stakeholders on a quarterly or annual basis. The same survey goes out to all of the clients, and the responses are diligently collected and tabulated – maybe even reported to the design team at a staff meeting. Meanwhile, the team is already bearing down on their latest projects, and the periodic comments either disrupt their progress or basically go unnoticed.

This kind of static feedback process can be detrimental to creative teams. In-house creative teams have unique skills which require an approach to feedback that responds to different needs. General surveys often don't account for those skills at all.

If you adopt more of an agile marketing mindset, you would seek immediate feedback on team performance, by holding a retrospective meeting with team members and stakeholders at the conclusion of each project.

To refresh our collective Agile/Scrum memories, let’s recall the three primary goals of a Project or Sprint Retrospective.

  1. Open and Honest Communication: The notion here is for all participants in the process – whether inside the agency or a combined agency-client team – to share what went well and what might have gone better with the process. This takes honesty, which takes courage, which in turn requires an environment that everybody perceives as safe. In short – no hard feelings, no matter how the conversation might unfold.
  2. Common Understanding in the Group: A good retrospective meeting results in a clear and common sense of purpose and understanding. That means the facilitator of the retrospective takes pains to summarize findings, and confirm understanding with each and every member of the team.
  3. Concrete Action Items for Process Improvement: A good retrospective is much more than a “kumbaya" moment. It should produce clear, concrete steps that specific team members can take to correct problems, eliminate inefficiencies, and improve performance. If you don’t have at least two or three concrete action items after a retrospective, you have a right to ask yourself if the meeting was worth the team’s time.

The Many Benefits of Agile Marketing for In-House Agencies

In typical agile marketing, there is a single "Product Owner" who advocates for the other stakeholders and works in collaboration with the creative team to deliver new output. But for in-house agencies, the number of different stakeholders makes this single-point-of-contact approach difficult.

Instead, in-house creative teams should conduct agile retrospectives with as many of their different stakeholder groups as they can. Bring in the brand managers and corporate marketers who spend weeks and months of the team's time with new campaigns. Invite the franchisees or local marketers who keep the team busy with tons of one-off requests.

If some stakeholders can't make it, or can't commit to attend on a regular basis, make sure you ask for their feedback in advance and have one of the creative team members advocate that client's point of view.

There are three key benefits to this more collaborative (and more frequent) retrospective approach:

  1. Retrospectives put the agency team and the client on an equal footing, rather than the typical “master-servant” mentality. In a retrospective, every participant is equally responsible for the success of the project, and the improvement of your process.
  2. Retrospectives keep the whole team focused on business goals. The best way to begin a retrospective is to remind the team members of the goals that were established in the project-planning session. This helps to focus the team on its shared purpose, and to celebrate success.
  3. Retrospectives foster continuous improvement by giving the team frequent opportunities to improve the process, not just to evaluate the work product. Tweaking the details of an execution is a great thing to do (and something we all do obsessively). But how much more powerful is it to find process improvements that produce improvements not just in one campaign, but permanently?

Bringing everyone together for frequent retrospectives helps to keep the bigger picture in perspective. If brand marketers get to hear how franchisees struggled with certain creative choices, they'll learn the practical impact of their decisions in the field. Local marketers will be able to see the effort involved in their requests, and will know when and (more importantly) how to ask.

Above everything else, the in-house agency team will be able to adapt more quickly to the changing needs of their stakeholders. And isn't that the promise of agile marketing in essence?

Curious about how in-house designers can use agile marketing tactics to improve other aspects of their work? Check out our infographic on how design tweaks and revisions can cost designers, and some of the steps designers are taking to address them.

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