Not that long ago, when agencies invested enough in themselves to have a point of view about account management, the training to make sure it was understood, and the management focus to make sure teams adhered to agency principles, there was this simple tool called a Contact Report.
You may be young enough— in fact your entire team may be young or inexperienced enough—that you’ve never seen one or even heard about them. Yet this seemingly innocuous account management communications task of writing down the direction that a marketer is providing appears to be lost from the scene. Its loss creates enormous waste in the marketer-agency relationship.
It was simple. Contact Reports were the one essential agency tool for managing expectations on any project. They were mandatory. As an account manager, all you had to include were these five items:
- Subjects discussed (a list of items covered in the meeting or call)
- Decisions reached
- Next steps (including when due)
- Person responsible for each item in next steps
- Note at the end of the document asking all meeting attendees to respond with corrections, if their notes or memory of the meeting does not correspond with what has been documented.
Contact Reports used to be an industry standard. Failure to produce one after a client meeting could be a mortal sin for an agency account or project manager, especially if that failure led to a miscommunication that cost the marketer money. Contact Reports tracked all the inevitable changes in the work. They settled disputes over what the agency was or was not asked to do. They helped resolve billing issues.
Not a single marketer, of the dozens and dozens I’ve talked to this last year, can remember getting a contact report from an agency of any kind after a meeting. Agency account managers have become lax on this issue, perhaps due to the mistaken assumption that email communication alone provides an accurate summary of decisions and expectations. Nothing could be less true.
No one searches through email correspondence to track decisions in a complex and expensive process. Directors of Client Services, senior account leadership and agency CEOs have become dropped the ball. Their defense? “Clients don’t expect them anymore.” They should. Corporations pay the price that is always due when communication between two groups is not precise and documented.
These simple guidelines, built into every SLA (service level agreement) or agency contract, will save both the client and the agency time, reduce churn, improve the work, and prevent mishaps in the essential partnership necessary to accomplish vital marketing goals.
Marketers should make sure their agency commits to the following process:
- If you have a client call, a contact report must be sent via email to all participants within 24 hours
- If you have a client meeting, a contact report must be sent via email to all participants within 24 hours
- If you exchange a series of emails about the work, and as a result, a larger group must be notified, a summary contact report must be sent via email to all participants within 24 hours
As AdAge reported in the article, Want More Out of Your Agencies? Write Better Briefs, up to 30% of all agency time is made inefficient or wasted due to poor input. Some of this may, in fact, be the agency’s fault. The input may have been spot on for a given project, yet it may have been delivered in an unstructured manner. The agency’s failure to capture that input in a simple contact report precipitated the project’s collapse into chaos. Stop. Let’s rethink that last statement. If you, the marketer, haven’t required that your agency maintain best-practices in documenting changes in the work, you own the primary responsibility for the breakdown in communications. Most agencies will provide the level of service that marketers require of them.
Our advice to agencies? Step back up to the standards that were common in the days of the Mad Men, and mandate that your client-facing teams produce timely, comprehensive and accurate Contact Reports. If you do, your clients will respect everything else you do all the more.
Our counsel to marketers? If your agency managers don’t provide this level of service (and it is highly likely they don’t) then require it of them. If you don’t hold them accountable, then this much is certain – every communications failure about the work will guarantee that the work will either suffer or be more expensive. In an age of communications chaos, let’s not forget the fundamentals.