TIPS TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN THE BEST AGENCY TALENT — What Every Marketer and Marketing Procurement Manager Needs To Do — Joanne Davis

6 min readAug 3, 2022


Image from Unsplash by Brooke Cagle

No doubt we’ve all grown weary from reading endless articles about the current talent drain in agencies. It is tiring, and quite frankly, depressing to constantly read about broken agency models. Staff turnover. The great resignation.

We all get it. Loud and clear.

Rather than continue to lament on the challenges the talent drain brings, it’s more productive to listen, learn, and/or remind ourselves to implement smart ideas to ensure you are the client of choice, rather than state the obvious and complain.

So, what do we DO about it?

Provided here are nine proven strategies we advise our clients on, enabling them to attract and retain top agency talent. Our clients who have been following these practices are reporting improved levels of satisfaction in their agency relationships and benefitting from strong talent on their account.

And you can too.

But first, it’s vital to understand three key realities of working with agencies.

Agency and agency talent facts:

1. Agencies care about three things: pay fairly, let us share in your success, and respect us as professionals. Or, said more colloquially, make me rich, make me famous (awards), and treat me well. I’ve never had a client say, “I don’t have enough fee to meet my goals.” We hear “I don’t want to overpay,” “I’ll pay if they can deliver,” and “we have to prioritize because our budget is limited.” Treating the agency well is even more important, especially if you aren’t creating award-winning work or paying large fees.

2. You are competing with every other client for the best talent in the agency. Word spreads quickly on who is a “problem” client.

3. If a star employee asks to be assigned to or away from a client, they will get what they ask.

So what to do?

1. Share your pain points about business issues, don’t make them guess. An agency can’t read your mind. You will get more for your investment by being transparent and telling them your concerns and fears, rather than sugar-coating the issues. This will encourage a candid, two-way dialogue that brings real solutions.

2. Clarity on client roles and responsibilities. The agency performs more effectively when they know which client is responsible for what. Having multiple masters is challenging for all of us and creates churn, drives costs, and burns teams out.

3. Clear insightful briefs. The expression, “garbage in, garbage out”) applies here. The quality of the agency output is directly linked to the quality of the client input brief. If you want integrated solutions, look at your briefs carefully — are they inspired? Are they integrated? Or are they “fat” rather than brief? Missing key insights? Tactical rather than strategically inspired? Every marketer (and marketing procurement manager) should take a good hard look at your briefs. A brief is great when there’s nothing left to take out. A great brief is succinct, crisp, and to the point, almost like an ad itself, in a way. I have had a good number of procurement executives tell me that they’ve never seen a brief and young marketers ask for samples of brilliant briefs.

4. Streamlined approvals. Seven-layer cake may be tasty for dessert, but not for approving work. Try what one smart client friend of ours did — have only one meeting to review the work. Do we really want the assistant to kill the work but not approve it, the brand manager to kill the work but not approve it, the senior brand manager to kill but not approve it, the director to kill but not approve it, and it’s only when it gets to the VP that approvals are possible? This is a process that procurement can help facilitate.

5. Dedicate yourself to agency relationship management. Many of our smart clients have experts in agency relationship management. These are folks who spent time agency-side rather than moved from a foreign role to agency management as part of their rotation. They understand that you only get out of an agency relationship what you put into it, and foster relationships that keep agency teams motivated to deliver their best work. Think of agency relationship management as a discipline to get the most out of your agency investment.

6. Train your people. We have several clients who are dedicated to training their people on how to best work with agencies. Beyond a simple online tutorial, they use subject matter experts to teach their folks. Several clients who implement staff and role rotation have mandatory agency management training before a “new to marketing” manager can work with the agency. And they have coaches to help along the way.

7. Procurement is a value add, not a roadblock. We’re very gratified to see the improvements in procurement knowledge based on excellent work from the ANA. The July 28 report, “Procurement 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” shows that 59% of marketers rate the relationship between marketers and procurement as either extremely or very healthy, but only 15% of agencies rate their relationship with procurement as healthy. Why? We believe that procurement is following “procurement rules” and client “company rules,” which connect marketer and procurement alignment on internal processes. But procurement is often taking a purely internal “transactional” approach, still not truly listening to agency needs or understanding the impact on productivity, quality, and overall relationship health.

Procurement tells time-starved marketers that they can “handle it,” but lack the depth of expertise to understand the full impact of the problem on the relationship or to remedy the situation. Great procurement colleagues know when they need to add subject matter experts, such as an outside specialist SME consultant to the team. As the ANA study noted, marketing procurement is still a young field. These young teams with nascent capabilities stand to benefit from external coaches.

8. Pay fairly and promptly. Do you want to be paid 90-days after you deliver your work? Enough said. Have you thought about paying more for more senior talent who can do the work faster and better? This can cost less in the long run because the $ staffer may need five hours whereas the $$$$ staffer can do the work in an hour.

9. Respectful reviews. The talent drain has a direct impact on agency searches too. In our next post, we will share ideas on agency searches, based on our experience helping several clients who said they conducted searches and were dismayed they “had a party and no one came.” Headline thoughts: make it relevant, make the assignments real, give the agencies access to marketing, be transparent, have fair timing, and a process that fits the fee.


A highly connected Industry leader, Joanne Davis is a global keynote speaker and an expert in client-agency relationships. Her strengths include implementing agency models and processes for agency search and selection, compensation, client-agency training, and optimization, to enhance organizational communication and collaboration. Joanne helps clients find, evaluate, start new and maintain existing relationships with agencies. As a super connector, Joanne utilizes her vast network of clients to connect people to start and share meaningful conversations that build the foundation for strong relationships.




!mpact Magazine is a platform where people with a vision can share their ideas and insights.