Marketing agencies are an essential component in any marketing manager’s toolset.  Picking the right agency and maximising the client-agency relationship makes all the difference.

I’ve encountered inexperienced marketing managers talk of how they’ve brought all their marketing in-house to save on agency costs.  Whilst these valiant attempts keep them busy, I’ve never seen anyone get promoted (or even last long) after such an exercise.  More experienced marketing managers know that agencies provide a valuable skillset that needs to be maximised to their advantage.

What do Marketing Agencies offer that’s not easy to do in-house?

There are a number of key points to consider here, the most popular we’ve found with clients are:

  • Scalability – instant access to experts without the need to recruit, train and maintain these skills within the business. Suddenly bring huge amounts of resource to bear on a project, but only pay for this when you need it.  Switching this off again until the next big project.
  • Diversity of expertise – agencies typically have access to subject matter and skills experts either in the business, or through a pool of known and trusted contractors/freelancers who can be brought in to ensure the best minds are applied to any project. In-house marketing teams often stretch themselves too thin across a variety of disciplines and become masters of none.
  • Forecasting of costs and results – an agency will quote a project up-front, so you know exactly what it will cost and when it will be delivered. This helps forecast costs and results and ensure you meet your marketing objectives.
  • Division of labour – an agency will get on with what they excel at, so you can do your job even better. Outsourcing marketing campaigns to an agency means you retain control, but do not get bogged down in development and delivery.  The agency should set out service level agreements (SLAs) and/or performance metrics to provide reassurance of delivery against objectives.  Then you can focus on your role as the agency does their job.

Characteristics of a good Client-Agency relationship

Trust and good communication are the cornerstones of the best client-agency relationships.  As a client, you need to ensure your requirements are clearly communicated with your agencies before expectations can be set and commitments honoured.  Regular face-to-face meetings (at least initially) and the confidence to allow the agency to push on in between makes for a more productive and enjoyable working relationship.

From an agency perspective, your agency should respect that you are an expert in your field.  You know your products and solutions, buyers and organisational interdependencies in a way that no agency can.  Conversely, you should respect your agency as made up of experts in their fields – understanding markets, seeing beyond your immediate zone of interest, drawing parallels from related markets and even other clients.  Agencies are also experts in creative content and delivery, so need room to flourish and execute campaigns which will engage.  Mutual respect for each other’s strengths builds a more effective relationship all round.

The confidence to ask questions helps both agencies and clients grow more quickly.  A good relationship is always in dynamic equilibrium – ideas and knowledge should flow readily from side to side.

Dependability is closely linked to trust; no one likes to be let down.  An agency should always be a safe pair of hands, dependable and resilient – supporting the client in times of need.  Conversely, the best clients don’t make empty promises.  Both sides need to communicate and set expectations clearly.  There should never be any surprises, and projects should flow smoothly with both sides as one united team.

Step back and get the most from your Marketing Agency

The most successful client-agency relationships are predicated on a mutual respect for each other’s expertise.  As such, once clearly briefed, you should have the confidence in your agency to push on and deliver what you need, for when you need it.  Review steps should be an opportunity to fine-tune where needed, rather than add your own stamp to output.  The agency’s output should reflect your input from the briefing stage.  A quality brief should result in quality output (if you have the right agency).

Given the time pressures of competitive markets, it’s worth remembering the Pareto principle (often called the 80/20 rule).  80% of the results come from just 20% of the activity.  Whilst it’s satisfying to fine-tune and polish a campaign through multiple rounds of amends, some of the most effective campaigns are those which get out into the wild quickly with the right 20% at their core.  Your agency should instil confidence that they grasp your core objectives and can deliver on these without the need for rounds and rounds of amends.  If they can’t, you should move on.

Choose the right agency and heed the advice above for a supportive and empowering client-agency relationship.  Get the most out of your marketing agency and help them to help you shine.