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Finding your perfect agency partner

by Jamal Cassim

If you're looking for an agency partner, don't triiippp.

Great work happens through collaboration. As we like to say at Untangld, “none of us is as smart as all of us”. Modern commerce is simply too complex to rely on a single team, skillset or capability to win. And when it comes to delivery IMHO, there aren’t specialists and generalists, not really; only specialists, and opportunistic liars.

So winning requires effective collaboration: it’s why a renaissance happens in clusters of places in specific periods of time, built on scenes and salons. Why Oprah is a face but really a billion dollar team, why Lady has a Haus of Gaga.

So who will help you deliver on your ambition? Whether you want to make waves through culture, design, advertising, creativity, pr, media, technology… in the search for great partners, there are too many easy mistakes and traps.


Three steps help avoid the worst:


#1. Set strategy before you try to execute

Don’t use the process to define the question. Seems too obvious, you can’t believe I’m writing this down? Well, I can’t believe you’re doing it.

Taking too loose a brief to people who love to make stuff, and you’ll be flush with executions you’re judging subjectively. Time gets lost in the back-and-forth separating objective answer from subjective executional flair. It’s easy to get lost.

It also leaves us all vulnerable to snake oil (If you’ve ever left a conversation with a martech expert from [ahem… a major platform] convinced it’s the answer to all your struggles then, yeah, they’re a salesperson and you’re their mark).

Exploratory conversations are fine if billed as such. Or bringing in a partner to help shape a brief? That’s cool. But “if you want to make the wrong decision, listen to everyone”. When the right answer matters, you need strong direction. And that requires evidence and confidence. Most of the work we do at Untangld lives in finding answers to serve that need (and yeah… there is one). Set your strategy first, before finding the perfect partner to deliver.


#2. Creds are cool, but chemistry’s hot

One of the legendary matchmakers of London taught me a great hack. When someone’s presenting in the room, watch everyone else. You’ll easily see who’s really a cohesive team, and the ones full of secret contempt.

Sit with them and ask yourself: are you the ones? Do I really want to do this work with you?

That doesn’t always mean the easy nice crew, it might mean embracing a little discomfort, that’s fine. The bedrock of flourishing isn’t just manners, it’s mutual trust. Whether your preference is close collaboration or leaving it to the experts, suss out the beginnings of a productive back-and-forth.

Besides, credentials are usually obvious from portfolio, you don’t need to meet someone to know they have the minerals. Mostly, we get to outcomes we deserve, but there are also times we can get to an outcome that’s better than we deserve. That’s what we’re shooting for. The secret ingredient is chemistry.


#3. Conduct is queen

The market can feel saturated, full of choice – but that’s true on both sides. So when you’re selecting, run a clean process, communicate transparently, be clear on timings, expectations, your capacity to invest, don’t leave people hanging – I mean, I’d say be a good buyer, observe the rules of decorum or whatever, but these things are so basic, like… don’t be a dick?

All industries are incestuous, word travels, and black marks on your corporate karma hurt your organisation and career.

I see great brands with good budgets saddled with lacklustre partners, bled dry because better options shy away from them. I see CMOs and CDs the industry secretly laughs at; founders people cross the street to avoid. But the true cost of poor partnership isn’t being unable to find anyone… it’s paying over the odds for mediocrity, a half-job, and watching your numbers slowly falter.

The best people work with the best, so treat them as you would want to be treated, even if you haven’t hired them yet. Don’t trash your reputation in the commons.

Of course, this is true of all talent… As an old boss once taught me: you don’t “hire” good people. Good people choose who they want to work with.

That’s true for them. It’s also true for you.

Comments? I would love to hear about your experiences, good and bad. Hit me up.

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Jamal Cassim

→ A proven business leader to some of the world’s most innovative and successful B2B and government brands including AGL, CommBank, WorkSafe and the BBC.

 Jamal’s multifaceted experience includes the practical application of insight into meaningful growth strategies, processes and digital products. From start-ups to blue-chip businesses, he’s helped launch ideas, scale teams, revitalise systems, and worked with business leaders to level-up their models and approach to brand experience.

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