Day 3 of ISBA/IPA Good Brief Week, hosted by Karmarama, was presented by Darren Woolley, a flamboyant Australian marketing consultant who flew in from Melbourne to talk about the myth that is agency collaboration.

I am here to debunk the thought that agencies can work collaboratively, he said and asked the audience to rate their own qualities that are necessary for great collaboration


Working together does not equal collaboration. With no agreed definition of collaboration and with most clients and agencies using the word because it feels like the right thing to aspire to.

Collaboration (2)

If collaboration requires a high value of trust driven by mutual interest and needs all parties to share the value created, has the industry misunderstood the concept of collaboration and confused it with co-operation and co-ordination instead? How often does it happen that marketers say they trust their agencies but won’t share critical data and insights with them?  Or when a roster agency is reluctant to share their results with the clients other agencies because those agencies are all competing for their position on the roster and their share of the marketing budget.


Darren presented research by the Economist Intelligence Unit into the importance of trust in collaboration, and provided insights into the differences between collaboration, co-operation and co-ordination.



Darren believes language is really important because it sets expectations. He suggested that if collaboration is not happening think about co-operating and if that does not bear results then just try and co-ordinate with each other. If you get that right, then you could maybe start to climb up that ladder to collaboration.

He suggested six things clients and agencies should be doing to engender greater collaboration – Otherwise called ‘When in doubt, ask what Darren would do?’




Define opportunity. Define what success looks like. Define specific common measurable goals and what the purpose of all this is?

Allocate. This is where leadership comes in, and it must be up to the marketer to assign roles and responsibilities to the agencies, not leave agencies to sort this out for themselves as commonly happens. Otherwise what incentives do the agencies have to sort it out? If you have a lead agency, then

by definition clients are abdicating their responsibility to lead.

Relevance. Ensure all agencies on the project and the specific people in the briefing are relevant to the solution, you need 2 people maximum from each agency, a problem solver/thinker and someone to take the notes! Stop agencies from going to the clients “in packs.” In pitch situations agencies feel the need to be present en mass, however every agency person at the meeting should only be present if they can make a valuable contribution to the pitch process.

Reward. If you have objectives and they are measurable, then clients need to start rewarding against these. This defines the value of the briefing process.

Evaluate. Create an environment that encourages regular feedback and not just from client to agency but also from agency to client and agency to agency.

Negotiate. Be willing to intervene and negotiate or even arbitrate on issues and disputes between agencies, don’t leave this to the agencies to sort out themselves. In China there is something called the ‘Golden Rule’: those who have the gold will make the rules. Marketers have the gold, so they should make the rules.

He concluded by saying the performance of the agencies resides with the marketer, and it is the marketer’s responsibility to define the purpose and then to manage the agencies and their process. The way we reward and remunerate agencies is counter to a collaborative culture, and that is what we need to overcome.  e the purpose and then to manage the agencies and their process. The way we reward and remunerate agencies is counter to a collaborative culture, and that is what we need to overcome.



The forum sparked a lively discussion and led to an open dialogue between the clients and agencies present at the session. Agencies were keen to understand how best to convince clients to direct the process and not leave it to the agencies to sort it out. Darren argued the traditional agency model has turned specialist agencies into sales people, selling what they do best to clients, which is why marketers have to take the lead and define clearly the framework they need the agencies to work within.

Within a client’s business, who takes ownership of the task of integrating agencies was another burning question – the marketing department, procurement or a third-party intermediary? Darren felt that this should certainly not be the role of a third-party intermediary. It should be the client that leads. Looking at remuneration models, reward and recognition systems falls on the shoulders of the procurement department, but the ultimate responsibility is that of the marketer.

How do you motivate problem solvers at agencies who do want to collaborate? The reason collaboration does not work is that the people solving the problems within agencies don’t ever get any share of the value of what has been created. There is also a limitation to the levels of trust – confidential and commercial information is not always shared by clients with their agencies. Stop using the word collaboration because it is a pie in the sky aspiration that falls flat on its face.

One of the final thoughts highlighted by the audience was the exploration of the specialist vs the full-service agency model as the future agency model moves towards multiple skill sets within fewer agencies and potentially not so many ‘best of breed’ agencies. As clients seem to have a problem of getting all of their agencies to work together for the best outcome, full service of fewer agencies on a roster seem to be a viable possibility. We were left with the question of – what does the ideal agency of the future look like?

Collaboration 3

If you have more thoughts to add to the discussion do write to  at ISBA or


By Sonoo Singh on behalf of ISBA/IPA



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