The Intricacies of a Successful Sandbox
- You are the lead. It is your program. You have made the decisions to bring multiple agencies together, so you have to manage the integration. It is not their job because if you asked any of them, they would have preferred that you use them for everything and not have multiple agencies at the table.
- You might have one agency that is the lead for strategy, but you own the vision for your program. Make sure the vision is well-known. Make sure the strategy is understood by all involved. And make sure you are the voice of the strategy whenever possible. You might have an agency who is lead on strategy, but you are still the ultimate decision maker. Plus, by gaining opinions on other strategies from other agencies, you might gain some unique opinions.
- There are multiple levels of goals in marketing and fundraising. Make sure everyone knows which goals he/she are accountable for. The revenue goals can be complicated if multiple agencies are helping on one program — but accountability is key. Also, operational goals and setting expectations are a critical part of the integration process. In multi-agency relationships there are schedules that involve those agencies. If one agency misses a deadline, another agency downstream sometimes has to play catch-up. That creates very uncomfortable conversations sometimes. Make sure you, as the client, are managing the schedules when it comes to missing deadlines or other schedule goals. I did recommend that agencies try to work some things out by themselves, but that does not give the client the permission to turn a blind eye to problems and challenges occurring throughout the process. Same goes for budget management. If there are multiple inputs to the budget from multiple agencies, make sure you are very aware of the specifics of each agency. I've seen it before — one agency overspends, didn't manage the costs of a specific component or didn't communicate a change in costs, which then makes the whole campaign look bad from a budget perspective.
- Make sure you are driving and requiring participation from all agencies involved. Just as it is problematic for one agency to "take the lead" if it has not been hired to do so, it is equally problematic for an agency to not participate equally. This applies to meetings, preparation of materials, strategic brainstorming, etc.
- Don't shy away from conflict. Even the best sandbox players have tough days. When it's time to be the parent, you have to take on that role. If there is a problem brewing in the "team," get to it early and be clear about your expectations going forward.
- Lastly, make sure you communicate with all agencies. Each agency wants to know how it is doing. Each agency wants your time and energy. Don't pick favorites, and don't spend time based on the amount you are paying one agency over another. In the end, you decided to bring each agency to the table for a specific purpose, be it big or small. Make sure you are making them each feel like a valuable part of the team. Treat everyone the same, and have the same rules for each of your partners. Celebrate with everyone, and hold feet to the fire when necessary in a fair way.
There are benefits to each of these models. There are also challenges with each of these models. I'm a fan of the multi-agency model because I do believe fundraising and marketing have become very complex and having experts in the multiple areas all come together is a winning strategy. However, integration across the agencies is the sole responsibility of the client. It would be a shame to spend the money on this type of model, which is typically more expensive, only to lose all the benefits because the client doesn't know how to truly manage it for optimal results.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.