There’s an old marketing joke that goes: Why do vampires make terrible business people? They can’t deal with stakeholders.
I didn’t say it was a good joke. But stakeholder management is a serious issue for marketers, so you shouldn’t be laughing about it anyway.
Think of the CMOs and marketing directors who suffer relentless interference from CEOs who don’t trust and empower them to get on with marketing. Or the marketing teams whose fellow departments and c-suite don’t see the value of what they do. Or the project team changes that throw the delicate equilibrium you’ve painstakingly achieved into disarray all over again.
I’ll stop, I’ll stop. But must we be bulldozed down by these debilitating headaches? What can those agency- and client-side do to improve stakeholder management and team alignment?
It's critical to have one point of contact in-agency and at-client who can rationalise and funnel feedback to the other party, and have accountability for ensuring information is shared on their end. Obviously, this is why our noble ancestors invented the client services team. But importantly, more and more we're seeing that in-house teams want visibility and input from the wider agency team on demand. That exposure can unsettle the rest of the agency, no longer able to 'hide behind' client services and enjoy luxurious hours of prep ahead of key milestone calls. However, it's in the best interests of the agency/client relationship because it deepens the bonds between both.
Establishing meaningful relationships is something we pride ourselves on. Genuinely. We work best with clients who allow us to challenge them, and who challenge us. The relationship, experience and general vibe between agency and in-house team, and the fact that each needs to make time for each other, is what's critical to stakeholder management. Getting to know the human in the role is key.
It also helps to avoid the combative language that’s stubbornly hard-wired into business. Terms like 'war room' that we say without really thinking about, but nevertheless needlessly instil a sense of confrontation. That’s something the relationship within an agency / client-agency / in-house shouldn't need to be. Maybe even using ‘anarchy’ in the title wasn’t right, but that was to set up this very point, obviously.
Get everyone's concerns and priorities addressed early – the very first step we take with the marketing or project team. During ignition meetings, we ask for everyone’s hopes and fears for the project so we've got a clear view of what everyone wants from it and where pitfalls may occur.
We take a workshop-driven approach for the same reason. There can be so many conflicting opinions on everything from which personas to prioritise, to what the actual marketing objectives for the year are, that it's important to get all stakeholders on the same page and bought in up front. That means everyone from c-suite to operations, so you can ensure there’s harmony rather than curveballs down the line as the project rolls out.
It can be tricky to get some stakeholders to see the value in marketing, hence attribution / ROI being so important. In organisations that don't have a marketing team, especially, conflicting priorities and points of view can get messy. And within the in-house marketing team, people still have different priorities. As an agency, we sometimes have to (rightly) act as a bit of a mediator for those conflicts, hearing the room and suggesting a route forward that works as best it can for everyone.
Ok, maybe not chaos. But having said all this, a bit of anarchy in the strategy can be good. If you're working with a client on brand and strategy, you get a real sense of the personality of all the key players and, therefore, how to present the brand’s personality. Where does the energy of the company lie? What fires them up and rattles their cages? You want the tone of voice, visuals and assets to reflect how the people who make up the brand behave. So it's useful to see the raw, naked truth of people up front.
And sometimes, try as you might, you can't get every stakeholder on the same page. You never know what's going on in someone’s professional or personal life, and they might have deep-seated reasons for going against the consensus. Or, even worse, they might actually be right. Everyone agreeing isn't necessary; everyone trusting each other that they're doing the right thing within their own specialism is.
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