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How to get the absolute most out of a marketing agency.

Assuming your marketing, advertising, design, or PR agency is, in fact, staffed with smart, competent, and creative people, this straightforward checklist will ensure that you get all the smartness your business needs out of them. The secret lies not in choosing the most lauded firm or a firm that is steeped in your industry but in realizing that you just bought into a two-way relationship requiring work, real sleeves-up work, from both parties. Read on, future Best. Client. Ever.

Saturate the engagement upfront

Every marketing agency worth its salt will have a clear and organized kickoff process. Once the contracts are signed, and the introductions of team members are complete, it’s time to get down to learning about what brought us together in the first place; what’s the problem to be solved or opportunity to be realized? 

Part of this process is "immersion." Immersion is where the agency learns your brand’s take on your current situation; it's all about learning how you talk about your obstacles and aspirations, mapping those needs against a timeline, a budget, and determining who on staff needs to be tasked with solving these challenges.

Additionally, and most importantly, this is where industry research and customer understanding get its start. Although you probably want an agency that has a good grounding in your specific industry or interest, the fact remains that your agency doesn’t live there all the time; you do. You’ve internalized terms, techniques, and a way of looking at the world through your industry lens. Now, at the beginning, is where you want to focus on over-communicating. Don’t just immerse your agency in the current situation; saturate them. Don’t be concerned about “dumbing down” your communication because going over aspects of your current challenge that you might deem “elementary” will still be bathed in your brand’s point of view — and that’s important grounding for your agency.

Be punctual. Be responsive. Be present.

All good agencies value crisp time and budget management, and all of them have specific roles and titles for team members who do nothing else but what they do best. However, have you considered how critical it is for your team to be timely in its dealings with the agency? 

Most B2B marketing deadlines are based on fixed-time events: an upcoming product launch, for example, or a major trade show or exhibition. Agencies realize how crucial it is to hit milestones along the way to have compelling, business-shaping tactics ready to deliver in a way that pays off pre-defined strategies. However, a significant pain point for agencies who are held to task for their delivery schedules is a lack of promptness or completeness in communications and project feedback. 

If your agency holds a live presentation covering a strategic approach, a series of new concepts, or messages, they’ll often grant you a period to “live with the work” for a while before you supply consolidated feedback. Feedback that never comes, is late or is incomprehensible steals the momentum from the project. As a result, follow-ups and “nudges” from the agency often start to feel like “nags” to a client that finds itself challenged to respond.

If you and your team find yourself in that last group (challenged to respond,) make that a discussion point with your agency rather than suffering in silence. If you don’t know what your agency needs in response, ask them. Don’t guess. It’s likely that, to “move the project forward,” some agencies will take incomplete or unclear feedback and attempt to interpret it, perhaps with a lack of context, and deliver work that misses the mark in whole or in part. 

Timely, clear feedback, even if the clarity is “we don’t know how to respond,” is better than too little, supplied late. Transparent, prompt feedback is the oil in the engine of a successful agency/client relationship. Honestly, we could stop here. If all of our clients were timely in their feedback, we’d be about 90% happier and more effective. 

Focus on what you need, not what you want.

No matter what industry you’re in, you wouldn’t be a successful company if you didn’t have creative thinkers on board. What’s more, innovation isn’t just the purview of R&D or internal marketing teams; it exists in HR, accounting, logistics, and every other discipline group that makes up your firm.

However, you’ve hired a marketing firm because of their creative expertise. To that end, tell them what success means for this engagement; what are the so-called KPIs? Allow your agency to then develop a creative pathway to achieving those ends. Nothing, absolutely nothing, short-circuits the life force of your agency more effectively than dictating approaches. Once you begin expressing “wants” rather than “needs” (“Let’s say it this way,” “Let’s go with this influencer, “We had our internal team tweak the logo you supplied,”) you begin a vicious circle that ends with your agency tapering off their proactive thinking, and instead responding reactively to your requests and demands. In other words, they shift from being conceptual to production oriented. Ultimately, this pattern ends with many clients searching for new agencies saying, “They weren’t very creative.”

Get clear on the process, then let it play out.

When you were first shopping for an agency, aside from being impressed by the portfolio work or stated marketing results in different case studies, what set the competing firms apart? More than anything else, it was their process, the repeatable method they used to deliver work and results.

At BS LLC, we are process-oriented and proud of it. Our process is unashamedly research-heavy upfront, and we pride ourselves on our foundation of "jobs to be done" and "four-way analysis" methodology.

The process your agency uses is a method for increasing your success. When you hired your agency, you're paying for this process to play out. It's in your brand's best interest to really understand the process and then give it plenty of room to work. Be sensitive to where you might be diverting or cutting short this process. Be sensitive to breaking the rhythm of your agency. This might mean changing your communication or withholding judgment until a specific meeting is scheduled for a later date. It might mean waiting to see concepts to determine if the agency's proposed strategy actually has a chance of succeeding.

In any event, when you think a change needs to be made, try to determine the best point in the agency's process to make that change known.

About the Author:

Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to healthcare and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.