How Do You Onboard a New Agency?

Wine Institute’s MarCom 2017 seminar, April 18, included a panel discussion on how wineries can best work with agencies. Our president, Jeremy Benson, addressed the question of what wineries can do to successfully onboard a new digital or PR agency/subcontractor, and we’ve summarized his thoughts below.
Onboarding goals
The objectives of the initial few months of an agency-client relationship are straightforward:

  • Take steps to establish a strong partnership, not just a vendor relationship
  • Document clear, concise goals and metrics which define success
  • Quickly establish processes to fold internal and external teams together

If winery and agency meet these goals, they stand a very good chance of producing excellent results in a long-term arrangement beneficial for both parties. How do you make this happen?


Suggestions for wineries
Here are some more precise recommendations for wineries – and best of all, they are no or low cost!

  • Introduce the partnership. The winery’s senior management – e.g., president, or VP marketing – should introduce the agency via email to the whole winery team, or at least all the major functional areas of larger wine companies. The email should convey winery expectations, define roles and responsibilities and, maybe most importantly, convey what it means for the growth and evolution of your brand.
  • Kickoff Meeting: Again, senior management should invite the agency reps to present their plan in a meeting with the functional heads of each department, including winemaking and vineyard operations, finance, etc. As winery CEO, you want buy-in.
  • Creating Positive Momentum: It is human nature to work well with people we like. So a winery can take simple steps to lay the foundation for positive relationships that yield great results.
    • Quick praise: “reply all” with congratulations to the whole team when an agency emails positive news and wins.
    • Put the agency on your email list, club mail list, sales info list, etc. Demonstrate they are part of the team.
    • Recognize all members of your account team, especially the most junior members.
    • Feel free to request advice, even if the subject is out of scope with the agreement. Engaging your whole account team develops a sense of trust.

Suggestions for agencies and subcontractors
Here are some tactics Benson uses to onboard clients, and these are all recommendations that clients should expect from their agencies or subcontractors:

  • Translate the proposal into a plan. Your agency shouldn’t start a program based on a proposal. Instead, create a 12-month plan using three documents – the written plan, budget and calendar. Include:
    • Document the scope of work: what is the business challenge or opportunity addressed? What is NOT included? (e.g., graphic design)
    • Create a calendar: schedule workflow across 6-12 months
    • Document goals, metrics: Identify overarching goals, metrics and assumptions. For example, for PR include CPM (total cost per one thousand impressions after 12 months), top 4-5 most important media outlets, and your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). For digital, break down social media (engagement rates, etc.) and digital (impressions and CPM) separately since these can address different goals.
    • Define roles: for each agency team member, with link to bios
    • Provide a contact sheet: include each team member, not just senior members
    • Define reporting, meeting processes: frequency, roles, format, participants, etc.
    • Document brand key messages: In most cases, Benson finds that a full brand messaging plan is required before starting a digital or PR program in order to define tone, voice and core brand messages.
    • Summarize the ‘courting’ phase: During initial agency-client conversations, a lot of context and useful info is shared. Summarize this for the agency account team.

The vast majority of agency-client problems are caused by poor communication. Benson has found these steps to be simple ways of avoiding issues and producing sparkling results.
Special thanks to Nancy Light, VP Communications, Wine Institute for coordinating the successful conference, and to Mimi Gatens, Marketing Manager, Trefethen Vineyards, for moderating the panel.