Great work relies on a dedicated team, strong creative, strategic ideas, organisation and lots of hard graft.
These are all attributes you’ll recognise – or should recognise – in your marketing agency.
The strength of the relationship between your external partner agencies and your business is paramount to success for both parties. Once the teams get to know each other, they need to understand each other, complement one another’s skillsets and feel that they can work together easily.
To gel, it should “feel right” all round, and that’s all fine until things start to go wrong, expectations are not being met or the results aren’t coming through.
Why ‘partnership’ status matters
Sometimes the strength of a partnership lies more in differences than in similarities and in the complementary fit rather than exact match.
Agencies crave ‘partner status’ with their clients, because it takes them beyond the limitations of the ‘supplier/customer’ relationship.
If your marketing agency feels it is seen as a partner, it’s a natural incentive to them to extend go the extra mile – but it knows that to achieve that status there are some hurdles to be cleared.
As a ‘partner’, you want to know that your marketing agency shares your expectations, your understanding of goals and what constitutes ‘value’. You need to know that they are bought into the success of your business and understands where you aim to get to.
Do you feel your current marketing or design agency has reached ‘partner’ status yet?
What are the benchmarks you should set to help them achieve this?
We’ve listed 12 things you should expect of your marketing agency to ensure ‘partner’ status is possible and profitable for both parties.
1. Shared expectations
As a client, you’re entitled to have expectations of your agency because you’re paying them to deliver results. In turn, your agency should demonstrate that it understands and buys into those expectations.
It’s not always about the expectation to ‘hit targets’. Often it’s about smaller things, such as:
- Availability: when the agency will be available e.g. via a dedicated Account Manager
- Communication: will there be dedicated daily or weekly calls or meetings e.g. for status updates, planning or reviews?
- Benchmarks: are there any agreed KPIs to work to?
- Deadlines: does the agency agree deadlines with you for delivery of work?
If you can agree these working parameters early on, you’ll both get the best from your working relationship together.
2. Buy into business goals
The goals you set are important to the future of your business. They’re not randomly plucked from the air, but have taken time and effort to identify – and they need to be taken seriously.
It’s not good enough for a marketing or design agency to simply do a job for you without any understanding or interest in how the work fits into your overall business goals.
After all, the marketing work is going to make an impact so the efforts need to be made in the right areas in the right ways.
It’s good to share your business goals with your agency to give them a context to work in. But look for evidence that they’ve taken this on board and truly reflect your goals in what they do.
3. Have a plan
Formal processes can be time-consuming and awkward to follow. As a result, some agencies may skip the planning in favour of a ‘just do it’ approach.
While getting the job done is ultimately what’s needed, good planning is proven time and time again to be fundamental to success. As the client, it’s only right that you should expect to see a plan or framework that shows how your agency intends to approach its projects or delivery on a day-to-day basis.
Understanding their planning processes will shed light on their internal operations, and may help you identify ways of streamline resources, budget and time.
4. Use a joined-up approach
Marketing is a multi-dimensional, multi-channel discipline. Being ‘joined-up’ is about seeing the bigger picture. How making a change to one element of your branded marketing collateral may have an impact on another.
For example, if you’ve just launched a new website, what should happen next and how will the website be put to work to support longer-term business goals?
Things like SEO, content creation, blogging, social media, email campaigns and landing pages cannot all be done separately and in isolation; they’re all part of the bigger, joined-up marketing picture.
5. Report on results
Most businesses work to a set reporting cycle and marketing reporting should be part of that cycle.
If you’re using a retained agency to support your marketing planning, strategy and management, you can expect them to provide monthly or quarterly reports either in a dedicated marketing meeting, or as part of the management process.
Reports need to demonstrate that progress is being made and that results are coming in as expected – or will do. Reports should include budget, activity plans, campaign results, project progress, KPIs and anything else specific you want to know about the marketing function.
6. Take care of my budget
Your marketing budget is a scarce resource and represents real cash outflow.
Sometimes for smaller and medium sized businesses that haven’t previously invested in formal marketing resource, it can be difficult to get to grips with a new and regular form of expenditure like this.
Your agency will tell you that when managed correctly, your marketing is an investment that will pay dividends. And that’s true. But actions and results speak louder than words.
So expect the best ROI possible and ask them to treat every penny of your marketing budget like it’s their own.
7. Be flexible
Your marketing plan is designed to support your business goals. But sometimes it’s important to change the goals – and marketing needs to adapt accordingly.
So knowing how flexible the marketing strategy and plan is, and how accommodating your agency can be in changing circumstances is very important.
Even the best made plans don’t always turn out as intended, and using different approaches and alternative resources may be the only way forward.
8. Go the extra mile
While they will work to an hourly fee or rate, no credible marketing agency lives by the clock alone. So most aren’t going to down tools when there’s still work to be done.
In fact the occasional urgent deadline or last-minute request is always expected among marketing agencies, so long as it remains the exception rather than the rule.
In a successful relationship, both parties are prepared to pull out the stops so that there is a mutual benefit. As long as it’s based on a give and take understanding, it’s a reasonable expectation that your agency will go the extra mile for you.
9. Add value
“Don’t just do as I say” is a well-worn business principle.
It can be a difficult concept to get to grips with, but a good marketing agency will occasionally challenge your thinking and ideas. The essence of the creative process is to blend thinking and come up with new and different thinking.
Your agency wants to know that you welcome their proactive, unprompted ideas and that you value the new angles they introduce to your established thinking.
10. Be transparent
There shouldn’t be any surprises in agency-client life, which means that transparency is very important – and it has many forms.
To start with, there’s the subject of how to charge for ‘bought-in’ items such as exhibition stands, print or advertising space. Most agencies will have a standard policy for this, such as passing costs straight through to the client or adding a small mark-up of e.g. 15% for time.
Another point is deadlines. Where, for example, your agency has agreed – and is working to – a deadline, but then discovers it needs more time to get the job done, you should expect to be given more notice than 5 minutes before the deadline.
Other topics where transparency should be expected is with ‘sanity vs vanity’ results, use of technical jargon and use of freelancers.
11. Look after the detail
It is irritating to receive work from your marketing agency that contains typos and incorrect information. Even at a draft stage, work that includes errors is sloppy, looks unprofessional and raises doubts about the abilities of the agency whose services you’ve invested in.
While it’s OK to make mistakes from time to time (and most of us do), basic accuracy and professionalism can all be achieved by taking care of little details, often at the expense of no extra cost or time. Your agency should know that you are concerned about this.
12. Be fun
Lighten up. Yes, professional working relationships are a serious business but that’s not to say they can’t also be fun.
Just like any relationship, cracks start to show when we take ourselves too seriously and forget that we chose these professions because we enjoy them. The most successful teams are also often the happiest, so let your agency know that it’s OK to have a laugh about things now and then.
Ultimately you’ll all reap the benefits.
Your marketing in 2018
Whether your agency relationship is in its infancy or is well-established, the new year ahead always brings opportunities for change and new perspectives. A new year is a new start for your business – and a fresh new focus for your agency.
Start a new partnership in 2018 and as you mean to go on.
And if you’re looking for a new marketing or design agency partner for the year ahead, why not contact us or call 01763 877110. We’d love to answer your questions and talk about how we can help grow your business together.