Signing up with an ad agency is a big deal. You’re entrusting your marketing—the lifeblood of your company—to someone else. The hope is that they’ll be able to save you time, headache and money, but if you picked the wrong agency, it could all go wrong.
Instead of saving you time, you could end up spending even more time trying to manage the relationship. Instead of eliminating headaches, working with an agency might create more headaches. Instead of saving money, you might end up blowing your budget on the wrong decisions.
Needless to say, getting started with a new agency can be a bit stressful.
You’re not the only one feeling stressed, either. While there are horror stories out there of agencies who take their clients’ money and leave them with nothing to show for it, most agencies really want things to work out. They’re investing a ton of time and effort into the success of your business, and if you get upset and leave, all of that effort will have been wasted.
Now, you might think that the agency is getting paid along the way, so their risk is lower, but in most cases, it takes an agency months to break even on a new client. They need happy clients who stick around. Between marketing, sales and onboarding, short-term partnerships are just as bad for the agency as they are for the client.
So, if both you and your agency are in it for the long haul, what can you do to make sure that the relationship works? After working at Disruptive Advertising for years, I’ve found that things tend to turn out best when both client and agency are focused on four critical things: communication, strategic planning, urgency and transparency.
Good communication is the secret to any relationship. Your relationship with your agency is no exception.
With your agency, the first step to successful communication is setting the right expectations. Here are a few things to clarify in advance:
- How frequently are you going to communicate?
- What will the nature of those communications be?
- What happens if there’s an urgent issue that needs to be addressed?
- What form of communication is preferred?
- How long will it take to respond to an email, a text message, a phone call?
Your agency partner is just as busy as you are. You aren’t the only business that they are working with, so they have to balance the needs of all of their clients. That means they won’t always be available to answer your questions or call at a moment’s notice.
Now, should your agency be reasonable about responding to questions or concerns? Absolutely. In fact, if they don’t have a clear process in place for handling emergency situations, that’s a red flag.
However, it’s also important to recognize that not every concern needs to be addressed immediately. If you’re constantly on the phone with your agency, something is wrong—and that something may not be your agency’s fault.
So, as you go through the onboarding process, make sure you know the answers to the questions above. If you understand what to expect from your agency in terms of communication, you can plan accordingly and save everyone a lot of frustration.
2. Strategic Planning
All good marketing starts with planning and research. While you might be anxious for results, if you charge off in the wrong direction, all you’ll do is waste money. You don’t need an agency to help you do that.
A good agency partner will spend much of your first weeks and months together seeking to understand your business, your customer, and you. Throughout these discovery meetings, you’ll begin to outline the strategic roadmap for the next several months. This roadmap will lead to success or failure based on the foundation you’ve built and the degree to which you allow your agency to truly be the experts.
Additionally, as you put together your strategy and move forward, avoid the urge to control things. An easy way to limit your success is to turn your account manager into a simple task taker. You want a partner, not a servant.
Instead, focus on empowerment and creating a trust level that encourages independence. Your partnership will flourish under the right conditions!
Remember, your results will only be as good as your plan. You came to an agency for a reason—keep that reason in the forefront of your mind as you begin working together.
As a business owner or marketing director, you feel a ton of urgency. The success and failure of your business rests largely on your shoulders, so it’s easy to feel anxious for news or progress.
Unfortunately, many people confuse “urgency” with “being busy”. Rather than asking, “what’s the best way to achieve our goals?”, they overload their agency with tasks and directives.
From one perspective, this makes sense. You’re paying the agency, so you expect them to work. However, working just to create a sense of movement can often lead to wasted effort. You want your agency to feel a sense of urgency, but you don’t want that urgency to translate into “busy work” that isn’t actually helping your business.
Instead, focus your strategy meetings on realistically evaluating all of the options on the table, and then ask the question: “which of these activities will drive the result that matters most?” Keep the old 80/20 rule in mind and identify the 20% of activities that drive 80% of your results.
Your agency will have insight into what is going to drive the best outcomes—trust that insight.
In addition, if there are so many potential options on the table that prioritization becomes impossible, you’ll need to discuss the scope of your arrangement with your agency. Sometimes getting everything that you want will require increasing the size of your contract. There are no “bad” options here, just natural compromises. Collaborate, decide, and then set realistic deadlines and expect your agency to hit those deadlines.
Finally, it’s important to talk about transparency. Most of the time, when people talk about transparency with ad agencies, they focus on the agency.
Yes, you need to work with a transparent agency. But that transparency needs to go both ways.
Honesty is an incredibly valuable commodity in an agency relationship. You will not get where you’re trying to go if you have an account manager who is afraid or reluctant to talk about the hard facts. That means both of you need to be open and honest about what is happening, where the challenges are and what you can do to improve things.
If you find that your main point of contact (POC) never reports on what is NOT working and what they’re doing to fix it, you will never build the deep trust you need to push through the true difficulties. No one bats a thousand, and your agency should feel comfortable discussing both the good and the bad with you without worrying that you’ll suddenly cancel the contract.
Create an environment where you can discuss hard things. Instead of you versus your account manager, ensure that it’s you and your account manager versus the problem. If your main POC shows up to the table with honesty, the fastest way to sink the partnership is to place blame for marketing challenges on the account manager.
Remember, your reactions will incentivize the behavior you want to see most. If you attack a truth-teller, you’ll turn them into a liar before you know it. Work with your agency to solve the real issues, and you’ll be unstoppable!
Relationships are tricky business, and things only get harder when your actual business is on the line. However, more often than not, finding a great agency partner is less about picking the perfect agency than it is about understanding how to work effectively with an agency.
If you don’t know how to communicate effectively with your agency, create and execute on a solid marketing plan, focus on what matters most and create an environment of transparency and trust, you’ll struggle to make things work with any agency.
There’s a reason why certain companies bounce from agency to agency in search of an elusive “soulmate”. While they love to blame their agency partners, the true source of their problems often lies much closer to home.
But, that doesn’t have to be the case for you.
As long as you focus on the principles we’ve discussed here and find an honest agency who will do the same on their end, marketing success should just be a matter of time, effort and perseverance.
Oh, and if you’d like to work with an honest, upfront agency that puts you first, just let us know here or in the comments. We’d love to make your next agency relationship the best partnership you’ve ever had.
Do you agree with these points? How do you manage and nurture your agency relationships? Have any tips or advice to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Chad de Lisle
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