The Truth About Working with Marketing Agencies
The decentralization, or outsourcing, of marketing services over the past few years has created somewhat of a mess in the industry. The lack of standardization among marketing agencies has contributed to some confusion and uncertainty around how outsourcing works both on a long-term and day-to-day basis. As an experienced agency ourselves, we’ve had our share of clients on both ends of the spectrum. Some have a very clear understanding of the capabilities agencies possess and how to facilitate a working relationship. Others overestimate the level of funding and attention they can afford, often resulting in a lack of direction and frustration.
If you're reading this article, it’s likely you’ve decided to begin working with or started researching how it would be like to work with an agency. Perhaps you’re starting to notice your competitors becoming more active with frequent social posts and consistent newsletters, or maybe you’re already doing this yourself but it’s taking up more of your time than you’d like. The harsh truth is that your marketing efforts are likely falling short from where they could be. Marketing is an increasingly complex industry that requires a wide array of expertise to execute successfully, from graphic designers, web developers, computer programmers, copywriters, project managers, and more. You may think that this is a persuasive piece convincing you to hire a marketing agency. Well, think again.
In this article we try to provide a true and fair analysis of what working with an agency looks like - both from the perspective of the agency and client - so that you can assess if you’re ready to take this step.
The Bad (And Sometimes Ugly)
We wanted to start this piece off with some of the issues you should consider before working with an agency. While most can be identified early into meeting with an agency owner or representative, it helps to be aware of these common traps:
- Agency Focus: If you find an agency is talking your ear off about marketing your product to increase conversions, chances are they’re lacking the experience of working with clients. Agencies that ask about the customer & product experience, as well as explore your brand’s values, identity, and differentiators understand that marketing isn’t as simple as launching an ad. Consider where an agency’s focus lies and whether their goals align with your own.
- Ad Spend Transparency: The most common issue that inexperienced agencies have with clients is a lack of transparency and understanding of ad spend and ad budgets. This normally results in poorly planned campaign productions, as well as costly back-and-forth that limits the effectiveness of your paid campaigns. Set clear expectations around ad spend budget and most importantly who will be swiping their card to pay for it.
- Technical Expertise: Marketing requires so many different skill sets that it’s not uncommon to find agencies where the graphic designer doubles as copywriter and SEO specialist. Requesting past work and getting an agency to specify who will be working on your project is a great way to find out how prepared they really are for your marketing initiatives. In addition, requesting software and marketing platform certifications can help you distinguish quickly whether they’re as qualified as they say they are.
- Client References: Even if an agency seems like a perfect fit from the outside, speaking with a current or former client of theirs will give you the final confirmation that they can deliver on their promises. If an agency is hesitant to do so, odds are they haven’t had many amicable endings with past clients.
With the marketing industry being as large and non-standardized as it is, much of the onus is on you as a business owner or representative to not fall for the snake oil that's out there. Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve found an agency and they’ve passed the aforementioned tests with flying colours. Before you can discern whether you’re prepared to step into this partnership, the question “what can a marketing agency do for you?” must also be reversed.
What Can You Do For a Marketing Agency?
No outsourcing service is self-sufficient. While it varies depending on the project and expertise, communication, direction, and reliability are necessary for mutual progress and success. Working with an agency is a time commitment unto itself that will require solidifying positions and planning appropriately. If you’re considering outsourcing your marketing efforts, here are a few resources you’ll need at your disposal.
A creative brief is a concise, standardized document that agencies and designers use to produce content in the form of blogs, digital ads, webpages, print ads, etc. These briefs are often created by a representative for the company’s brand and shared with all those involved on the project. Having a templated brief helps companies accurately pass ideas and expectations onto agencies to both minimize unnecessary back-and-forth communication and shorten the time between the occurrence of an idea and it’s execution. Ideally best if you have a draft brief that is then worked on with the agency and finalized. Here are a link to a few successful creative briefs: (insert pdf link to gated content)
The brand manager is determined early on in the relationship between a company and an agency, and essentially acts as the final word of approval on agency-created content. Without naming an official brand manager, small executive decisions can be stretched out for days, even weeks. These deliberations can also eat into meeting times and cause further confusion over when a piece of content is validated and ready for publishing. As a brand manager, you’ll have the power to either validate projects yourself or share them with your internal team for further discussion.
Point of Contact:
The point of contact in a company is the main line of communication with the agency. In some instances, the brand manager and point of contact will be the same person. For larger brands with more sophisticated operations, brand managers will only be contacted for final approval on projects while the point of contact handles any day-to-day questions, administration, organizing meetings, etc.
For most businesses, their budget will be their most limiting factor. If a company can’t spare the monetary expense they most likely can’t spare the time or dedication. While most agencies are quite transparent with their pricing packages, it’s important to ask yourself how far you’d be willing to extend the budget given the opportunity. For example, retailers work hard to pump out digital advertising, email newsletters, and in-store promotions over the holidays. If the budget lacks any flexibility, it can be difficult for the agency to react appropriately to market trends and occasions.
Finally, if all the issues above are addressed, there are tremendous benefits you’ll get from partnering with an agency:
- Accessibility: For the price of 1-2 salaried marketers, you’ll have access to an entire network of creative designers, copywriters, SEO specialists, project managers, graphic artists, and more. Each individual member of an agency brings their own set of skills, experiences, and community to draw from. Imagine having a web of marketers and creatives on call at a moment’s notice.
- Adaptiveness: Every agency has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that’s where the true strength in outsourcing lies. Working on a project by project basis lets you test the waters of different agencies with minimal risk. The non-committal nature of agency work lets you decide who you’d like to work with, for which projects, and for how long.
- Competitiveness: Whether internal or external, investing in marketing is a long-term strategy. Agencies understand that, but they also understand a business owner’s need to experience short-term wins. Our philosophy at Duco Media is that every client of ours should walk away from the end of a contract with more tools and knowledge than before, whether it be in the form of creative assets, branding information, business plans, etc. Having to prove your value on a continual basis is a strong motivator and an easy way to avoid stagnation.
- Growth: The right agency can push a business into the stratosphere. Building brand-value recognition through campaigns, newsletters, website improvements, can lead to fast and substantial growth.
With the aforementioned issues acknowledged and the benefits taken into consideration, you can confidently assess whether your business is prepared to work with an agency.
Think You’re Ready?
Ever had an idea for a Facebook ad that you couldn’t execute yourself? Or is your website missing a video introducing the brand? If you and your brand feel prepared for a partnership with an adaptive, innovative marketing agency, explore Duco Media’s packages here and elevate your online presence.