As marketing executives, we need to take responsibility for clear, effective communication with our agency partners

How can a creature that’s basically a giant head with a bunch of tentacles do much when it comes to communication? Cuttlefish have a great brain, a fantastic nervous system, phenomenal eyes—but they can’t speak, so how can they possibly communicate with each other, let alone with other life forms? Well, as it turns out, cuttlefish use that phenomenal centralized brain power of theirs to communicate quickly and diversely, adapting their communication style as the situation requires. Cuttlefish Marketers need to learn to do the same.

As the cuttlefish proves, communication can take place in all sorts of ways. You could talk to a cuttlefish until you were blue in the face without it comprehending one word that you said—but you’d be wrong if you dismissed your tentacled friend as being incapable of communication. We may be making the same mistake with outside agencies that don’t “speak the same language” we’re accustomed to using. When working with agencies, we may need to adjust our style and even the form of communication. What works in one setting won’t necessarily work in another. The Cuttlefish Marketer always adapts communication to new situations, rather than insisting on a static status-quo approach.

Unfortunately, however, a recent Advertiser Perceptions’ study found that there are major communication breakdowns in many client-agency relationships. While 88 percent of clients claim they speak their minds freely to their agency, only 36 percent of agency partners agree. On the other hand, 90 percent of agencies say they truly understand their clients’ business, but only 65 percent of the clients agree. Obviously, the two sides need to communicate with each better—and as the marketing director, it’s your job to make sure that happens.

If you’re not communicating clearly with your outside partners, then neither side can work effectively. No wonder trust breaks down in situations like these—and without trust and clear communication, how can you possibly hope to make outside agencies a seamless part of your organic function? As marketing executives, we want to see and own the big picture—but that doesn’t mean we should keep our big-picture perspective all to ourselves. If that were the case, we’d be practicing old-style hierarchical management, just in a new way. We don’t want to outsource our leadership and thinking, but we do want to be able to communicate clearly from our position of active involvement.

If you want an active role in your department’s success, you’ll need to also accept the responsibility of making your partnership relationships work better. Take the lead at building better communications that will foster trust and empower working relationships.