Working with your marketing agency is just that — work! Similar to your personal relationships, the world’s most successful unions are those that take time and effort. Good marriages at home and in the C-Suite are not a one-way street. Both parties require putting their backs into making long-term relationships sustain themselves. True and meaningful bonds are not transactional. In fact, the best are symbiotic, where a mutually beneficial partnership emerges.
Long-standing marketing agency and client agreements are those built on trust, clarity, transparency, empathy, open communication, understanding and support. While short-term, project-based assignments might be needed from time to time, the relationships that stand the test of time are those, which are the most fruitful. This is when both parties are fully engaged, committed, and stand by the belief the union is stronger than its parts.
A vendor-type relationship is not a committed relationship. It’s one-sided and doomed to early failure. Think of the fleeting celebrity-marriage syndrome that terminates quickly due to egos, and the unwillingness to build for the future. On the other hand, companies who seek to commit to a monogamous relationship with their agency are the ones that can sustain the long haul. Agency-hopping is fleeting, satisfying only short-term gratification, not long-term goals.
Marketing agencies and clients should know the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Knowing where your expertise is limited or lacking is a valuable assessment. Seeking the assistance of a marketing agency that specializes in areas where you, the client, lack certain acumen is not a weakness. It’s a strength.
To outsource or not outsource is not a binary choice. In many instances, there is a lot to weigh, based on the size of your company, your in-house team's expertise, cost savings and the risks involved. Whether you are a vendor, a small business operator or large brand, there are legitimate reasons to fill the gaps where your company is not the expert. Take content marketing, for example, this is an area where few small businesses have experience producing at scale.
A recent study by The Outsourcing Institute uncovered a major impetus for seeking outsourced assistance. Senior management assessed their internal resources and identified where their marketing departments were ‘cost burdens’ versus strategic assets. In these instances, partnering with the right outside marketing agency can actually save a company money and time, while realigning the job responsibilities of internal marketing managers to an oversight function.
Reputable marketing agencies are ahead of the curve. They have the experience to navigate emerging channels that may have escaped the purview of your in-house team and can include it seamlessly into the marketing strategy. In a recent McKinsey & Company report, it was noted most marketing agencies worth their salt are cognizant of where markets are going, allowing them to shift and “tease out next-generation platforms.”
Advantages of Building a Relationship
By relinquishing operational daily content marketing, advertising and public relations responsibilities to a marketing agency, a client can redirect their time and manpower to the firm’s other core needs. For many clients, one of the most compelling reasons for establishing a relationship with a marketing or advertising agency is the ability to tap into the expertise of a reputable and vetted firm. These are the folks who can convert the how issues into the now issues. Seek the marketing agencies that can challenge the status quo and apply world-class standards with fresh eyes.
A marketing agency is the extension of a brand. As such, they become your best advocates to not only create your brand messaging but also to deliver it to the proper channels expeditiously.
Since digital marketing is essential for any of today’s 21st-century marketing plans, you should be selecting a marketing agency that not only has this expertise but also is up to speed on changes. The evolution of today’s technology can quickly make online marketing skills and practices obsolete overnight. The software is updated and replaced at warp speed.
Internally, most clients cannot keep up with the new iterations as fast as marketing agencies. By the time a company invests and trains its own full-time staff in this field, the technology may no longer be state-of-the-art. Choosing the right marketing agency to partner with on this front keeps both parties steadfast in an ever-evolving competitive milieu.
Challenges of building a relationship
Sales teams seek out top influencers and key decision makers when they target companies for solicitation. Reaching them is another story. The same holds true for marketing agency relationships. If key decision makers go MIA, the contractual agreed-upon work to be accomplished can be stymied. It’s extremely necessary for the key players of the partnership to agree to ongoing, open and scheduled communication.
Parqa digital marketing strategist Karen Feder’s post “4 Ways to Build an Effective Relationship With Your Marketing Agency” believes in a tried-and-true old-school method of handling this issue. Simply ask the pointed questions: “Is there an ideal time of day to contact you? Is there a preferred mode of communication?”
Contracts should become your bible. It’s the central source to iron out specific terms and conditions. Like marriage vows, this agreement should be specific and to the point as to what’s required by both parties. Too often in long-term contracts, while the client might initially have more leverage during the negotiation stage, over the long-run, due to lack of proper oversight, the marketing agency can assume unwarranted control. To counter this from happening, it’s essential to include stop-gaps that give the company the ability to reassess and change course and direction, when and if needed.
It’s important to clarify roles so both teams are allowed their own individual swim lanes outlining what’s expected of each party and when those deliverables are to be met. If a client thinks the work is done when a marketing agency is hired, they are working under a misguided perception. No outside marketing agency can match the responsiveness of in-house employees.
Marketing agencies are not hired help. They are your partners and needed to be viewed as such. As for their reaction time, they can learn the ‘pain points’ the client holds near and dear – and can pick up speed to attend to those sensitive hot buttons in an efficient and timely manner.
Tips on how to grow the relationship
Similar to how wives and husbands iron out differences due to lack of understanding, marketing agency relationships can be improved upon when seen through the lens of sensitivity and empathy. Wearing each other’s shoes occasionally is a healthy solution, particularly during rocky times
Marriages improve over time when each party learns to understand the wishes and desires of the other. Communication is key and clarity of that communication is imperative. Keep the channels of communication open. Grievances should be given the appropriate amount of airtime to flesh out what is not going right. If either party lets small beef mount and fester, they will eventually materialize into long-term resentment. By addressing them quickly you can surface underlying issues to avoid greater hurdles down the road.
Agreeing to disagree is not a hindrance. Sometimes, it’s the right decision to make at the time. Each party’s thought process is valuable, but neither party has to always be right. Yes, the old adage, “the customer is always right,” is still a fall-back position in most instances, but vetted marketing agencies should never have their value undermined. They were selected for a reason, and for their voice to be heard.
Relationships in our personal and work lives are not easy to maintain over the long-term. At first blush, they enter our purview with a rush of excitement, an infatuation that such a union is going to change us for the better. Unfortunately, this is the stuff of romantic novels. While it begins with the premise of a happy ending, without proper nurturing and guidance, it can end with the lives of both parties not living happily ever after.
Waking from infatuation can be a disappointment, where self-doubt and anxiety set in. The person or the agency we thought we knew has flaws. This is when we are tested to deal with differences and conflicts head-on with a rational versus emotional mindset. Finding one’s individuality and independence within an intimate interdependent relationship is work so both partners can grow.
So are you ready to get started in identifying that almost-perfect, long-term partner that hits all of your hot buttons? What type of firm will be the right fit for your business, your brand, and your story? Once you’ve identified contenders, the following questions will help create a viable shortlist for you.
- Do they understand your vertical market?
- What’s their success in growing similar businesses?
- What’s their success in growing their own business?
- Are they growing and do they have a successful track record of their own?
- Do they specialize in marketing expertise your internal team lacks?
- What's their digital presence?
- Are they forward-thinking?
- Are they agile to change course when needed?
You may want to add to this list of questions dependent on your own specific needs for your specific marketing goals.
After your shortlist has been decided, your final decision should be based on a consensus from your key internal decision-makers. This determination should be both qualitative and quantitative. After all, the best marriages are based on trial and error – where the trick is to have the trials outweigh those errors. If you do your due diligence properly enough, you can come close to finding the near-perfect agency partner.