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I’ve been running a digital marketing agency for quite a while now, and I’m not too proud to admit that there are times when working with a digital marketing agency simply doesn’t make sense.
There are various reasons for this. Sometimes a particular problem is best solved with an in-house team. There are times when additional work is needed before a client is even ready to work with an agency. There are also those times when working with an agency was the right thing to do, but it just didn’t work out as hoped.
Experience has taught us that there are 4 rules which are crucial to delivering a great outcome for clients and agencies alike.
This is a simple one, but it’s also an easy one to miss in the excitement of a new relationship.
As the client, what are your expectations month by month, in the next 6 months and in the next 12 months? What does success look like for you?
What is the most important metric or milestone you intend to measure success on? It might be a sales or leads KPI. It might be a certain amount of traffic or engagement. It’s also possible it’s more about empowerment and supporting your team with creative assets or expertise as needed.
If you haven’t had a clear discussion with your agency around expectations then there is a very good chance you and your agency are thinking about success in a different way or using a different timetable to achieve it.
If expectations are not clear, and in writing, there is a good chance someone is going to be frustrated and unhappy down the line.
When I think of our best clients, those for whom we get the best results or even win digital marketing awards, I see a client-agency relationship that’s a true meeting of equals. This means that there is a trust in each others judgement and knowledge.
The opposite of this relationship is a master-slave relationship or one that is based on fear or driven by reactive behaviour (on either side). If you appoint an agency with the expectation that you should dictate what they do and how they should solve problems, then realistically you have to accept you will never see their best work.
Likewise, if your agency believes they know the answers to your problems without taking the time to find out what you know, then you should be concerned about how successful their work will be.
Respect is critical. But just as important is the ability of both sides to be willing to have direct conversations and provide feedback. This applies to both positive and negative feedback, and the best client-agency relationships feature both.
We’ve seen it all over the years. Clients who never provide positive feedback out of some fear that if an agency thinks they are doing a great job they’ll give less to the campaign. We’ve also seen clients afraid to give negative feedback for fear of offending someone. This can end in inappropriate work being approved, an unhappy client and ultimately a broken relationship.
An agency should always be appointed to deliver an outcome, and we strongly believe that clients should give clear feedback on how things are going from their perspective. Just as strongly, we believe that an agency has to let a client know when they believe the client itself is working against the goals of the campaign. Sometimes a senior member of staff will be making suggestions that no-one wants to stand up against, sometimes a day-to-contact is focussing on the wrong things and introducing inefficiencies which will lead to poor outcomes. Sometimes a client needs to know their existing assets (website, branding, messaging) are simply not good enough.
Sometimes these conversations are tough. But they are rarely as tough as anyone expects them to be. And almost always they make the future simpler and more effective for everyone. The alternative is typically growing frustrations on both sides as well as poorer than expected outcomes.
When you’re an in-house marketer it’s easy to forget just how close you are to your brand and how much assumed knowledge you hold. You also have access to real data on actual sales or revenue outcomes (or at least you should).
Agencies can only do their best work when they have access to this knowledge and near real-time feedback on the success of their campaigns in terms of sales and revenue.
Agencies do their best work when they can openly communicate with different client-side contacts. Marketing, sales, customer service, executives and more. I know with Rocket that we do our best work when we’re brought into business planning sessions and not just marketing discussions. We need access to senior people as well as day-to-day contacts. Getting feedback about new products and services and being copied in on internal communications which will have an impact on our work are also critical.
The more information you can give to your agency, and almost bring them into your in-house team, the better results you’ll get.
Are you about to appoint an agency? Do you already have one? Take this opportunity to think about how you work together. In particular, how do you rate on each of these rules? How does your agency compare?
There is often room for improvement, and if this is the case for you, why not pick up the phone and schedule a time to sit down and improve the relationship between yourself and your agency. There are only upsides.
Likewise, if you think it’s time to talk to an agency who values the client-agency relationship as well as delivering great outcomes then get in touch. We’d love to chat!
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