In this roundup, senior industry leaders share how to create an effective successful team culture that includes your marketing agencies and other external support.

'We're an extension of the team'. It's something leaders hear a lot when speaking to potential new agencies, freelancers, or otherwise. 

Whilst building a great culture in your own office might come naturally, expanding that team culture to your external marketing agencies, freelancers, or even remote team members, is often a little more complicated.

This week, we spoke to two marketing leaders from our network to share their advice and experiences in cultivating a strong team culture across both in-house and external members of your marketing function. 


This article contains key learnings from our virtual workshop, ‘Outside-In – Cultivating an Internal Culture with an External Team.’ To join an upcoming event, take a look here.


In this roundup:

  • The benefits of creating a strong team culture
  • Why team culture is harder to cultivate with hybrid teams or agency support
  • 7 strategies for building a great culture with your external marketing partners

What makes a great team culture?


Having a thriving team culture means one where the whole team is aligned on purpose, values, behaviours, and the way of working while also feeling like they are celebrated as individuals. 


The challenges of integrating external teams into your company culture


Because external partners mostly work remotely from your offices, creating a team culture with external partners can be more challenging than with in-house teams. Marketing leaders can fall into the mindset of seeing agencies only as ‘service providers,’ someone who is there to get a job done and doesn’t need to be engaged beyond delivering a project. 


What are the benefits of creating and nurturing a team culture?


This type of ‘delivery-focussed’ relationship can work for some, but it’s important to understand the benefits a strong team culture can bring:

Improved productivity – Teams that work well together are more productive and motivated towards company goals.

New learnings – Agency partners are often experts in a certain skillset. In-house teams can learn a lot from working with a diverse team of people from different specialisms, backgrounds, and knowledge levels. 


Increased innovation – A shared culture between teams means that people are more likely to share ideas, suggestions, and concerns, making a better environment for continuous innovation.


Going above and beyond – If an internal team/marketing manager engages external partners and makes them feel part of their team, they are more likely to go above and behind to ensure overall success. 


Overcoming challenges – If part of your external or internal team comes up with a challenge, a strong culture means that one can lean on the other to come up with solutions to tackle the problem. 


Download: Mutual Success – The Best of Brand-Agency Relationships 


6 strategies to help your marketing agencies feel part of the team 


In our recent event ‘Outside-In, Cultivating an Internal Culture with an External Team,’ Nikki Dixon, Marketing Director at Daniel Thwaites, and Industry Leader Sally Rasmussen discussed different tactics for building successful team cultures with external support. 


#1 – Find a partner that is interested in your business


For Sally, it’s important that an agency is aligned to what you want to achieve. ‘Freelancers and agencies need to be interested in what my customers want so that we can achieve our goals together.’ 

Sally Rasmussen on how to create effective team cultures - including your agencies


Nikki follows this up by saying, ‘I want to feel important to the people that are working with us.’ There are three questions she says you should ask yourself:

  • Is an agency actually interested in working with you, or are you just part of their mass-mailing list?
  • What does the agency know about you?
  • Is the agency asking questions and challenging your thinking? 


In terms of process, Nikki doesn’t initially give a precise brief to the agencies. ‘I want to understand how the agency will interpret that brief, and how they would respond to it. Do they interpret it themselves, or do they take a greater interest and ask further questions?’ 


#2 – Watch out for red flags 


In terms of knowing whether an agency might be the correct fit for your business, there are a couple of red flags that our panel suggested to look out for.

‘A red flag for me is the ‘cookie-cutter’ presentation,’ says Sally. ‘I don’t want generic slides where someone else’s logo has been swapped out for ours.’ 

Similar to above, look out for agencies who aren’t asking questions to challenge your thinking or have a lack of initiative in building the relationship beyond the transactional side of things. (This is something discussed by Gareth Turner, former Head of Marketing at Weetabix when we interviewed him recently.) 


#3 – Bring the outside in


As mentioned before, one of the issues with creating a strong team culture with external support is that they’re often physically removed from your business, working either at home or in their own agency offices. For Nikki, one of the ways she breaks down this barrier is by letting external partner know that they’re always welcome to come in and work with them.

Beyond meeting physically, Nikki holds weekly huddles with her team. ‘Agencies and external partners are able to join these at any time, where we talk about performance updates, and inspirational things that they’ve seen.’ 


‘Just going for a coffee together can really help,’ Sally advises.  


#4 – Recognise individual effort within teams


In many instances, a brand-agency relationship is managed by an account manager who will lead communication with the brand. To help your external marketing agencies feel like they are a part of your team, Sally believes it’s important to ‘take the time to thank personally within those teams. You need to recognise their effort and treat people how you want to be treated yourself.’ 


#5 – Use chat functions that work for your team 


Of course, it’s not always possible for external teams to regularly meet face-to-face. In this instance, it can help to find chat functions that work with your team. Nikki shared some advice on how they achieved this during the COVID lockdown.  

‘As well as using tools like Zoom and Teams, I found that WhatsApp groups can help make people feel like part of a team. These chats don’t always have to be work-related; they can be relatable memes. We wanted to interact like we would face-to-face, but in a way that people don’t feel forced to get involved.’ 


Read more: What Works for You: Freelancer, In-House or Agency?


#6 – Be honest about challenges


Like all relationships, it’s possible that you might hit a few bumps along the way. You might feel like your agency partner is pulling away from you and your culture, or that they’re losing interest. In this instance, Nikki’s advice is to ‘talk.’ 

Nikki Dixon on how to create effective team cultures - including your agencies


‘Things happen and influence people in a way that you don’t necessarily know about. Emails can be misinterpreted, so I always pick up the phone for a chat if I think something isn’t right.

Be honest. I prefer people to be upfront and say, “there might be something down the line that might affect the delivery of this project,” and that’s ok. Communication is critical. Through talking, you can find a resolution.’ 


Download: The Marketing Agency Checklist

Final advice for marketing leaders wanting to build a stronger team culture


No matter what type of relationship you’d like to have with your external partners, it’s always important to get along and understand each other’s needs. Having worked agency side, Nikki understands the pressures agencies have. ‘Don’t treat them like they are inferior.’

The final word comes from Sally, who runs with the old mantra, ‘you get out what you put in. If you invest the time, you will have a more fruitful relationship.’


Using GO! to find your next agency partner cuts the risk of a rocky relationship. We endorse not only on based on their ability to do a great job, but also on whether we think they will be a good fit for your team. If you’d like to know more, you can book a call with the team here.