Getting the most out of your agency partnership

Posted on 01/04/2021 by Bethany Sharma

Deciding to invest an often substantial part of your marketing budget with an external agency is a high stakes decision in any marketing professional's career - how do you make such a crucial choice?

It can take months, even years, of planning, buy-in from internal stakeholders and the tricky process of walking away from an incumbent agency that isn’t serving you anymore.

Done right, you can join forces with an agency that will become intrinsically part of your team, they will work hard for you, drive additional revenue growth and support you to exceed your objectives. When it goes wrong, however, it can mean disappointment, lost momentum and potentially stagnation of your marketing efforts.

Hallam, like all agencies, has experienced relationships descend into both camps. It’s not only frustrating for the clients business, but it’s also challenging for the agency team to be on the receiving end of an unhappy partnership.

Whether you are on the hunt for a new agency or are feeling a hint of dissatisfaction with your current agency, I would recommend investing time working through the points in this article to help you get the most out of your agency partnership. We’ll cover:

Step 1 – Setting the right expectations upfront
Step 2 – Ensuring there is a documented strategy
Step 3 – Pushing your agency to provide actionable insight
Step 4 – Making time for the fun stuff

Set the right expectations upfront

The best start to any new relationship is to be clear with your expectations. If you are unclear about where your finishing line is at the start of the race, it’s likely you will get lost along the way.

Step 1 – Define the ‘why’

Helping any agency determine if they are a good fit for you is by first clearly communicating the reason why you are looking to an agency for support. It might sound obvious, however in my experience, often the context and justification get’s missed out of the initial briefing process. By helping any agency to understand the bigger picture, often details pertaining to wider business context will help form the foundation of agency recommendations.

It’s good practice for you to come back to, and communicate, the ‘why’ annually or even bi-annually to ensure that you and your agency are focused not only on the day to day delivery but the bigger picture.

Step 2 – Do your research

If your business needs a tactical SEO delivery agency yet you are enquiring with agencies that specialise in strategic full-service consultancy, you both may be disappointed later on in your relationship! Make sure before you press go with getting a proposal or a sales pitch from an agency that you develop a shortlist. You can usually get a good feel for an agency from their website, an agency credentials deck that they can send you or using an agency review site like The Drum Recommended Agency Register.

Step 3 – Develop a clear brief

Creating a watertight brief will be the foundation of your new agency relationship for at least the first 6 – 12 months. I recommend as a minimum to include the following information:

  • Executive Summary – This is where you should clearly define the ‘why’, as described earlier and provide the background to the project. Try to articulate why you are looking for an agency, how it fits into the wider context of achieving key business objectives and what led you to decide to go to market for an agency.
  • Business, product or service and market overview – What it says on the tin! Include future market predictions and information on your competitors and customers.
  • Sales and marketing overview – Provide a description of your sales and marketing funnel, detail customer persons and target audience, overview of key stakeholders and your team skill set.
  • Agency requirements – What is important to you and your team e.g. ‘full-service agency’, ‘experienced in B2B space’, ‘Great chemistry’. Communicate what your top priorities are and your ‘nice to have’ preferences.
  • Winning behaviours – Have a think into what it would take for your agency to continuously provide value for years to come. For instance ‘weekly reporting and providing actionable insight into data’, ‘collaboratively work with other marketing agencies’, ‘understanding wider digital landscape’, ‘upskilling internal team’.
  • Main deliverable requirements – This includes main objectives, key deliverables or services required and available budget, plus any details on the RFP process.

Step 4 – Insist on a chemistry test

Often the people who lead pitches at agencies aren’t necessarily the people going to be delivering the work as they are senior department leads or dedicated business development professionals. Make sure that even if you were blown away by the proposed strategy, deliverables and projections in the pitch, you invest in making sure your team gels well with the agency delivery team who is actually going to be doing the work. Never underestimate the importance of building a team with good chemistry!

What does this look like in practice? This could be a simple matter of getting the whole team together on a call, with no real agenda other than to get to know each other, learn about each other’s roles, skill sets and communication styles. This not only benefits your team but energises the agency delivery team who gets them excited about the potential of working alongside you. A win-win!

Ensure there is a documented strategy in place

A valuable springboard for any agency marketing activity is a clearly defined strategy. Without it, you may always be a step behind your competition that do have one in place! Make sure that you and your agency agree upfront following onboarding and regularly review:

  • A Business ‘super goal’ – This could be a top-level revenue target or a specific business objective such as ‘expand products to the US market’, ‘triple revenue in 5 years’. Try not to make this a marketing objective as it can narrow the teams focus.
  • Priority marketing goals – Ideally, define 3 or 4 key marketing objectives that will help you achieve your business super goal. This could be things like ‘increase organic market share’, ‘Increase revenue generated through paid media channels by 20% YoY’.
  • Digital tactics – Now that you have your marketing goals, you and your agency can begin mapping out what tactics you are going to use to achieve those goals. Things like ‘implement blogs to drive increased organic traffic’, ‘diversify media networks to include Facebook’. This should be led by your agency and signed off by your team.
  • KPIs – What key performance metrics are important to your business and how collectively you and your agency are going to measure success. What is the benchmark, how will the team know when they have achieved success, how would you like those KPI’s to be reported?

Invest in your relationship

Hopefully, you should aspire for your agency to, eventually, feel like an extension of your marketing team. According to new data from relationship management company Aprais, as described in this article from The Drum, there are seven behaviours that are attributes of high performing team relationships.

These are;

  • Trusted to deliver and to behave with integrity
  • Resilience and bounce back from a crisis
  • Challenge status quo and tackles conflict head-on
  • Team accountability
  • Regular communication and open dialogue
  • Clear objectives
  • Functional Competence

Making sure that your agency team, especially your account manager, is consistently trying to build these behaviours into the partnership will elevate your working relationship tenfold. You may need to be clear with what behaviours are most important to you, which may change over time. I have seen resilience and crisis management be of great importance for many marketers over the last year but moving forward it may be challenging the status quo that becomes an even more important trait of an agency team moving forward.

Push your agency to provide actionable insight

Wading through the endless amounts of data produced by each digital channel and drawing out the importance from that data can be a challenge, even for the experts! I found a quote that really resonated with me from a market research company, CFR.

‘In the end, data is meaningless without context and without context, you cannot turn data into information. And information is useless without being able to apply it to something, creating wisdom.’

This is a great way of looking at it! Make sure you are pushing your agency to provide you with context, the ‘why’ something has happened, not just that it has happened. Using monthly reporting calls or quarterly business reviews to dig into the available data is often a really great time to relook at your strategy and apply the context you are getting from your performance data.

Make time for the fun stuff

Any relationship needs an injection of fun once in a while! It’s one of the main focus areas of an agency Client Services department to make our clients feel valued and to provide a great experience. Part of that is spending time purposefully putting the work chat aside for a call or an afternoon or two, meeting together to celebrate successes along the way and creating space for the team to further cement their relationship.

It’s been especially challenging over the last year in lockdown to make time for this type of activity, but with lockdown soon coming to an end I hope to see the resurgence of some good old fashioned agency schmoozing…I know my clients are looking forward to it!

If you want to talk to Hallam about if we are the right agency partner for you, please get in touch.

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