Get the best from your marketing agency: Part 2

1 August 2018

Your marketing agency can be so much more that just a service provider.


They can (and should) set the scene for taking your business to the next level of its development.

Unfortunately, this happens all too rarely. There are a lot of reasons why. One of them – and it might be scandalising to own up to – is that you, the client, aren’t doing your part of the job.

In part 1 of this long blog article, we looked at how mismatched timing, communication, mutuality and audience expectations can kneecap your marketing agency’s effectiveness. In this part we’re looking at marketing objectives, workflows, big ideas and exactly how many fingers there are in the pie.

We’re giving you this advice not to make our jobs easier, but to make our working relationship with you more effective. You simply get better results when you work with your marketing agency than when they merely work for you. So let’s pick up where we left off in Part One…

Marginalise middle managers

People who outrank or “out-expert” your project owner can really throw spanners in the works. Chucked accidentally or not, getting these spanners out either forces your project owner to go up the chain or causes rework with your marketing agency. Both cost your business in precious time and/or money.

The problem is that intermediary managers often have nothing directly to gain from helping your marketing campaign. Sure, if overall sales go up, they might get a bigger budget next year, but this connection is too vague. However, a marketing mistake regarding their department can mean they do face direct losses. This effectively incentivises them (through self-protection) to find problems in your marketing campaign, but not to find solutions to those problems.

A common case of this is when your upper middle managers send your agency emails containing lines like “I am not sure about X” or “let’s look at Y again”. These will send your agency into Red Alert. They don’t know that the unsure person with the impressive job title is only vaguely aware of the goals for a campaign that isn’t among their responsibilities anyway.

Meanwhile, the number 1 way you, as a client, can kill your own marketing campaign is to write a blank email CCing a bunch of your team, attach what the agency has delivered so far and give it the subject line of “Thoughts?”. Virtually everyone will come back with a problem or “just something to look at”.

While it is a core part of the project owner’s role to collect feedback from your team and condense it into clear instructions for your marketing agency, it’s even more important that they have the official authority to reject internal feedback that doesn’t suit the campaign goals. Speaking of goals…

Have specific objectives

Unless you enjoy blowing your budget and being frustrated, do not start a marketing campaign with any notion of “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it” in your head. If asking your team for “thoughts?” is the surest way to kill progress, then “know it when I see it” is the door to a mirror maze of fruitless revisions.

While some rework is expected and likely to be costed into any budget, rounds of exploratory revision get very expensive. Many clients have ended up spending so much of their budget seeking the elusive “when I see it” that their campaign runs out of money before anything even reaches the marketplace.

So, do not start your campaign or any creative work until you have have developed strategic marketing goals that get you to a state of ‘I know what I want’. Once you have these internal goals, stick with them until the reviews nominated in the strategy. If you change campaign scope on the fly it moves the target your agency is trying to hit. They simply won’t be able to score a bullseye.

That said, any marketing agency that’s any good will also understand that external circumstances in business are always changing. Sometimes being totally consistent just isn’t feasible when the latest crisis or opportunity (crisitunity?) arises.

This is why it is important to keep your agency in the loop. The more they know, the better they can fill the advisory part of their service offering to keep your campaign pointed in the right direction throughout the ‘crisitunity’.

All systems go, but one thing at a time

It is important to understand that your marketing agency has a lot of things on the go. It’ll also have a lot of systems tracking all the moving parts of all its clients’ campaigns. What’s more, a full-service agency will have multiple different departments and skillsets mutually relying on each other to pass work around.

The result is that when you are an agency’s number one priority, it actually means your campaign has been chopped up into scores of little jobs that are being passed around like hot potatoes from IT, to SEO, to graphics, to digital ads and back again. Often, one person can’t do anything until something else is done (IT can’t upload a blog post before it is written!).

This means you’re going to get status updates that show seemingly random amounts of progress across the various elements of your campaign. Certain tasks will have barely been started, while others will be virtually completed. This is normal.

See, even when you are the undisputed number one priority for the agency as a whole, it’s just a reality that not everyone can be working on your job at once.

Let your marketing agency think big

By definition, marketing is trying something new: getting you new business. You’d agree that getting a new result without trying something new is pretty hard. This, however, is exactly what many clients insist on.

The only way your agency can operate in this situation is through following precedent. They will be forced to find something similar that has already worked elsewhere and adapt it to your situation. This is not a bad thing of itself, but it doesn’t lead to lightning strikes of creativity or a rush of customers responding to a groundbreaking solution to their problem.

As we said above, when you bring in a marketing agency, your most important job is to know or identify the business results you want. Your marketing agency’s job is then to have lots of ideas and execute on them strategically to help you reach those goals. Marketing is essentially exploration and experimentation followed by execution.

After a certain point, the technical skills to execute a campaign are more or less the same at any agency worth its salt. This means that what separates the truly great marketing agencies from the rest are the ideas behind their assets and strategies. To get the best from your marketing agency, what you really need is the best of their ideas.

Give your marketers the leeway to shoot for the moon in the exploration and experimentation stage. Even if what they come up with isn’t quite right, you can add it to your ideas bank or prune it back to the appropriate dimensions.

It is far better to underdo a big idea than overdo a small one. The first gives you something to grow into, the second leaves you with an empty conceptual cupboard. And perhaps their big idea really is worth going for. After all, no one has ever made waves picking the safe option.

The agency-client connection

If you’re still with us at the end of part 2, you’ll have suspected by now that there is one more thing at play here. When you show that you want to collaborate with your agency, they will become positively disposed towards you. Friendly.

Of course, every good agency strives to give their clients a professional standard of work despite personal feelings, but it is simple, unavoidable human psychology that we do better work around people we get along with.

If your agency feels that you are straightforward to work with then they’ll be better able to deliver snappy results based on great ideas, and all underpinned by understanding, clear communications and a consistent strategy that takes you to launch and beyond. Do all this and you’ll win at marketing.

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