The agency checklist: How to work with an agency effectively
You are the expert on your brand. You are accountable for the results the agency delivers. They may be rowing, but you’re steering the ship—it’s up to you to make sure you reach the right destination.
The move back to in-house marketing is gaining ground. Brands large and small are realizing that marketing is more effective when brands take responsibility for their customers. As stakeholders with a lot more skin in the game than their agencies, and with the deepest and most intimate knowledge of their target markets, brands are increasingly finding that they are ultimately more effective when they bring marketing in-house.
Still, many businesses are not at the point where they can afford to hire a full in-house marketing team, and are forced to rely on agency work. And even those with in-house teams often need to augment their marketing activities by outsourcing.
But hiring outside experts and then wandering away and working on your handicap is one of the biggest mistakes brands can make. This is ultimately what's driving the move back to in-house marketing. The "set it and forget it" mentality has been hurting firms for decades, for the simple reason that a firm's partnership with an agency is most effective when the firm is heavily involved.
You may have hired experts, but to leverage them effectively, taking ownership of the projects they're working on (and your ultimate marketing objectives) while staying accountable (instead of passing the buck) is critical to success. Time after time, we've seen agencies hired while in-house marketers take a back seat, letting projects wander off track and seeing their own goals suffer.You are the expert on your brand. You are accountable for the results the agency delivers. They may be rowing, but you're steering the ship—it's up to you to make sure you reach the right destination.
Understand the value your agency is generating
Relying on top-level reporting and barely glancing at the work your agency is producing is a good way to miss important gaps and allow projects to slide off track, ultimately derailing your efforts.
From the moment you begin even discussing a project with an agency, it's your job to think about how the work they'll do fits into the bigger picture. Once projects start moving forward, it's critical that you get a detailed understanding of precisely what they’re doing and the value they’re generating.
To ensure effectiveness, you need to audit key areas and constantly monitor or reevaluate the work the agency is producing. Even if you’re not an expert on what the agency is actually doing, you need to be able to ask the right questions. For example, you may not be a Pay-Per-Click expert, but you still need to understand the agency's bidding strategy, image and messaging choice, and audience segmentation tactics.
Remember, this is your baby. It's your brand that stands to gain (or suffer) from the results of the investment. Ensure alignment between your brand and your agency of choice to maximize the relationship. Transparency and collaboration are key. If you're struggling to make this happen, you might need to seriously consider building an in-house marketing team.
Keep the relationship agile
Another key to success when working with an agency is the ability of both the brand and the agency to be agile. Circumstances change at breakneck speed in the modern digital world. Being ready (and able) to pivot, change tactics, revise strategies, and take advantage of new opportunities makes the relationship not only more valuable to both sides, but more likely to result in success. This is another key reason brands are building up their in-house marketing teams—agencies are often slow to react (and simply don't care as much about moving quickly and meeting deadlines for your projects as you do).
Part of that agile mindset is staying keenly aware of all the moving parts of your marketing campaigns.
Here are just a few of those moving parts that you should be watching (and reviewing regularly with your agency):
- Campaign structure, objectives, and KPIs
- Are your campaigns structured properly for products, lifecycle, and objectives, and are these three items being reviewed regularly?
- Are the campaigns' subcategories similarly being reviewed (segmenting your products, audiences, or promotions)?
- Is your agency measuring the right KPIs for the objective?
- For example, CPC vs LTV vs AOV
- Do your campaigns have naming conventions in place?
- Creatives, messaging, and landing pages
- Do they resonate with your targeted audiences?
- Do they match your objectives and KPIs?
- Do they match each other?
- Audience segments actually being targeted
- Are you targeting the right audiences (planned vs actual)?
- Are your audience segments overlapping, duplicated, or too large?
- Do you have manageable and meaningful audience segments?
- Tracking & optimization
- Do you have the proper conversion pixels in place for your campaigns and objectives?
- Are your campaigns optimized for reach/spend instead of your KPIs?
- Audience inclusions and exclusions
- Does your agency avoid running several campaigns on the same audience?
- Does your agency have the proper inclusions and exclusions in place for all of your campaigns?
- Promotions dig into your profitability—are you offering too much incentive to increase conversion?
- Are your promotions tailored to the buyer lifecycle (for example, offering first-time buyers "Buy 3 get 1 free")?
- How long have your campaigns/audiences/creatives been running? Review your change history reports to see who’s changing what and how often
Staying on top of these numbers and trends isn't about acting like Big Brother—rather, it's a critical component of collaboration. Agencies like to work with firms who are involved, who care about what the agency is doing and want to work with them. By studying the numbers and asking intelligent questions, you help the agency help you. Both parties benefit when everything is out in the open and marketing objectives are being clearly worked toward.
And, on the off chance that you work with an agency that's less than stellar, asking questions and staying on top of the data makes you more likely to catch issues (and put a stop to them before they get out of hand).
Working with an agency can be a rewarding experience, allowing your firm to reach marketing objectives that would otherwise be out of reach when building an in-house team. Take advantage of what the agency has to offer, take ownership of the goals and the project, and you'll be much more likely to succeed.
A version of this article was originally published on Martech Advisor.