🧩📚🚀 How to Get the Most Out of Your Relationship With Any Marketing Agency
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So you’ve decided that your business needs to hire a marketing or digital marketing agency to outsource some of your key marketing processes…
You open the door for agencies to present their pitches and receive an avalanche of proposals. You filter through the noise and find one that truly seems to understand your business, your objectives, and how to achieve them.
You enter the kickoff meeting and your team within the agency is waiting, all smiles and seemingly excited to work with you. Everything is going extremely well, and you feel like this team truly understands your needs and is committed to helping you achieve your business objectives…
Then you receive your strategy document and it’s nothing like you imagined. The designs are off-brand, the tonality is completely off, and even the ideas themselves don’t seem to align with your overarching goals. It’s as if the workshop had happened on a completely different planet.
A Mutual Nightmare
This kind of situation has happened with many of our clients with some of their previous agencies, and they’ve described it as nothing short of a nightmare. It’s even caused their internal teams to develop the business equivalent of trust issues in a relationship, wherein no matter how good the relationship, chemistry, and actual work seems to be, there are still lingering doubts about their longevity.
We understand the kind of issues that can arise within a business due to this kind of relative “failure”, especially considering that the agencies in question are supposed professionals who should have, at that point, done their homework in understanding the business and iterating, reiterating, and finally agreeing on the direction for the account.
As unfortunate as the situation is for the client side, we can definitely empathize with the folks at the agency as well. Just the thought of sharing a content calendar you’ve worked so hard to ideate, create, and perfect, only to find that it is completely off and needs to be completely reworked, is disheartening at the very least. Not to mention that were this issue to arise, the client would most likely be departing the agency quite soon barring a complete turnaround, which is always a crisis of sorts at any agency.
What makes us cringe at this sort of mutual nightmare is that it is utterly and completely avoidable. We always tell any of our clients who’ve been in this sort of situation before that the responsibility of maintaining the client-agency relationship falls on both the client and the agency.
Yes, as the paying customer, you’re entitled to a bit more of the responsibility falling on the side of the agency, and that’s completely natural. However, it’s absolutely impossible for any team, no matter how diligent, efficient, creative, or knowledgeable, to completely carry this sort of relationship when the client refuses to cooperate with them and support them with whatever it is that they may need.
For all of our clients, past and present, as well as for the good of the digital marketing services industry, we decided to share some of the steps agencies and their clients can take in order to ensure proper alignment and to truly get the most out of their mutual relationships. In our experience, following these guidelines is a must if we are to truly be able to benefit our client and work efficiently to achieve our common objectives.
getting the most out of your relationship with any marketing agency
1- The initial brief
Obviously, we’re a digital marketing agency, and we’re not the experts you come to when you need a one minute TVC or to distribute physical marketing materials, but we do have a good idea of the things any client-agency relationship needs to succeed, including both digital and more traditional marketing agencies.
The most crucial element in the success of any client-agency relationship is the initial brief. This acts as the guiding light that helps the agency navigate its understanding of your business and industry, your business objectives, brand story, key guidelines, and vision for the future. This understanding later forms the basic building blocks needed for your marketing partner (yes, you should consider your agency as your partner) to gain an in-depth understanding that enables them to do their job properly.
A good brief contains details about the brand values, tonality, target market, and long-term strategy of the company, and is helpful in creating an understanding of your business’ major pillars.
A great brief takes its readers on a journey through the brand’s story and where it originated, through the present and key upcoming plans, and into the future where the brand fulfills its main vision. When writing up your brief, don’t consider it as just another business document, but more as a document that can transform someone who is completely unaware of your brand and make them as knowledgeable about your brand as someone in your own internal team.
2- Aligning on objectives
Alignment between client and agency on the objectives of their partnership, whether it’s the yearly objectives or other more long-term ones, is absolutely critical to a successful relationship.
Objectives are, at the end of the day, the only way any two parties can remain accountable for their growth. Objectives should always be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) so that both parties are aware of what they need to do to meet their objectives, and are able to create a specific action plan that consistently moves towards these objectives.
One key thing to note is that setting objectives is not solely the role of the client. It’s actually important, from the agency’s perspective, to hear the client’s initial objectives with a hint of skepticism, and to educate the client on which of them are realistic and achievable, and which simply aren’t with current budgets and available resources. Tempering expectations is one of the most important factors of any client-agency relationship, and as the old adage goes: “Always underpromise and overdeliver.”
3- Setting clear plans and timelines
With objectives set and agreed upon, the next logical step is to create a clear action plan and timeline on how the agency plans to help its client achieve these objectives.
A clear action plan acts as the roadmap for how, when, and by whom the work should be done. Combining this with a strong timeline helps to create a sense of urgency and accountability on both sides. Having these two key elements down and agreed upon between both parties can help their respective teams to have a clear sense of direction, which usually results in higher quality work.
One caveat of this is that plans should always be flexible due to a number of factors. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances can affect a business and cause a need to pivot somehow (we all know how that went down with COVID-19), or there are large, unexpected fluctuations in the unit economics of an account. No matter the case, businesses and their marketing partners need to be agile and responsive to these changes and to be able to pivot accordingly.
4- Reporting and measurement
Back in the heyday of the Mad Men era, entrepreneurs and marketing executives were enamored with the idea of the blockbuster ad: the kind of ad that showcased the biggest stars of the day and positioned their product as the “it” product or the next big thing. We still see remnants of this school of thought today in many of the world’s biggest brands, and we completely understand the appeal. However, the marketing industry is in a state of flux and constant evolution, and we don’t think it makes sense to simply follow decades-old best practices that are not rooted in today’s reality.
In today’s era, which we like to call the “Math Men” era, measurement is simply indispensable for any marketing effort. No longer should corporations launch blockbuster ad campaigns and seek to measure their impact solely through increases or the lack thereof in total sales. Today’s digital ad platforms all offer a multitude of options when it comes to measurement, tracking and reporting. Marketers are now able to focus on the granular details of their results, and to pivot accordingly.
For example, you may think your website is wonderful, and it really could be, but if your conversion rates are low, maybe a few tweaks are needed to truly unleash its potential. You would be amazed at the potential of small, seemingly insignificant changes, to hugely impact your sales revenues and bottom line. Without measurement at every step of the buyer journey, conversion rate optimization would not be possible, and this level of granular detail is the key to the success of any marketing effort in today’s digitally-driven ecosystem.
While it’s important to constantly monitor your business’ key metrics and find new ways to improve them, it’s also extremely important, for any successful client-agency relationship, to have a certain level of trust with your agency and to understand that there will inevitably be ups and downs that should be handled in a cooperative manner.
One of our main tenets as an agency, both internally and externally, is overcommunication.
We’ve found that so many of the misunderstandings that happen for us, whether it’s within the team or between us and our clients, is due to a lack of communication, and this is why the concept of overcommunication is something we instill into anyone who joins ripplemark as a client or rippler.
By overcommunication, we mean that we try to communicate even the most miniscule of details that could potentially impact our work. When we receive a document, brief, or even a thank you message from a client, we try to always respond promptly, even if it’s with a simple “Well received”.
Applying this concept to the little things translates to the times when it is truly important. It allows us to have already built rapport with our clients, which makes us more confident discussing topics which may normally be slightly uncomfortable to talk about. Having this mutual understanding is crucial for both parties in making sure workflows and processes are streamlined and that the final product is always on point.
6- Aligning on big decisions
This point really just circles back to what we’ve already said before in this article: Your marketing agency is your partner, and as with any partner, alignment and communication are of the utmost importance.
We don’t mean that you should involve your agency in every minute detail of your business, processes, and finances. What we do mean is that you should make sure that any big decisions your brand makes, especially ones that could potentially impact your marketing efforts in any way, are relayed to your agency. For example, if you’re working on a key product launch or a new omnichannel campaign, your agency must be made aware of this so that they can prepare accordingly, even if the decision does not impact their work directly.
By aligning on big decisions consistently, your agency becomes more aware of your business and long-term strategy, which helps in preparing for key launches and announcements ahead of time to ensure they are executed properly.
Bonus tip: Free swag!
We know what you’re thinking: this author is just looking for some free coasters, notebooks, or other random freebies. (Spoiler alert: yes of course freebies of any kind are welcome any time on my desk)
But this tip was initially conceived as one of the best ways to enhance your relationship with your marketing or digital marketing agency, and this is why…
As with any gift, giving your agency team a small token of your partnership or appreciation of their efforts can do wonders for your relationship with them. We’re professionals and we strive to provide quality services to all of our clients, but we’ve also found that a good relationship between a client and their team within an agency makes working on the client’s account so much easier and more enjoyable.
Another thing gifts can do is keep you on top of your agency team’s mind. Just think of it this way, if you had a coaster on your desk with ripplemark’s logo on it, you would most likely remember them often, maybe every time you take a sip of your coffee. The same goes for the other way around. When your agency team is constantly reminded of your brand, there is a much higher chance for innovative ideas to be born.
The most effective gifts we’ve received were from brands that had sent us their own products to try out. Aside from acting as a constant reminder of the brand, these gifts helped us better understand the value of their product, and sometimes even enabled us to come up with unique benefits and selling points that may not have been mentioned during our kick-off meetings. No, this does not mean you must give us gifts if you ever become our client, but we also can’t claim that it doesn’t give some form of advantage to your brand in maximizing the value you get from your partnership with the agency, which ultimately feeds back to your brand’s bottom line.