Before getting on to the five things clients must ask their marketing agency, it’s worth making a note of the two types of marketing agency that exist:
1. The type of marketing agency that is transparent with clients and works towards strategically defined goals on behalf of their clients.
2. The type of marketing agency that is beset by anxiety and feels the need to create an air of mystery around what they do, bamboozling clients where possible and putting significant effort into making marketing sound like magic – to the point of having job titles like ‘shaman’, ‘wizard and ‘guru’ as standard.
Of course, marketing isn’t magic.
The best client-agency relationships develop when clients see an agency as an extension of their business. As a result, companies should expect the same level of honesty from their agency as they would from a staff member, with clarity about the marketing strategy across the board.
A client should feel comfortable to ask questions because the best agencies will actively welcome the opportunity to talk about the clever things they’re up to.
That said, there are some questions that marketers simply must ask their agencies. Here are our top five:
- Where were our hours spent?
Whether your formal agreement with your agency is based on delivery of key KPIs, traffic, conversion rates, coverage or something else entirely, the majority of agencies will (internally at least) allocate time and hours to make those things happen.
This isn’t a bad thing, because it means that agency members are driven to deliver within a time-frame and are accountable.
That said, it’s always legitimate to ask how much time is being spent on different tasks and why. Your marketing agency should be able to give clarity about where effort is spent.
- Why was specific work carried out?
Every task that your agency undertakes should have a purpose and, on request, they should be able to tell you what that reason was.
Employing an agency can be a significant investment – often at the expense of hiring in-house resource, so being sure that value is being achieved is crucial.
The oft-repeated quote ‘if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough‘ certainly holds true for the vast majority of marketing agency interactions.
The right agency will have a sound rationale for carrying out work on your behalf, and be able to report in straightforward language and meaningful metrics.
- What does ‘……’ mean?
Agencies live and breathe their sector; constantly adapting and staying at the front of the pack. This means that they’re talent and valuable members of your team, but it can also mean that they (occasionally) speak a different language.
Having knowledgeable people at the end of the phone or an email is invaluable, but whatever your level of expertise your agency should be able to explain themselves in terms that are meaningful to your business.
In the fast-moving world of digital there’s always going to be an element of jargon given the rapid pace of new technologies, tools and methodologies but the right agency will keep you updated, not use language to lock you out.
Having client buy-in for activity is at the top of the list for the vast majority of agencies, so never be afraid to ask what a term means.
- Who’s working on your account?
This one’s a classic. When you employ an agency you’re employing a group of people. Getting to know the team can be a rewarding experience, as it builds rapport, creates a sense of accountability and most of all – builds in the human aspect of the relationship that you’ve embarked upon.
You should never be afraid to ask who completed a task. Accountable agencies try to make sure that client projects don’t get shuffled among different staff members, so the responsible team can deepen their understanding of the brand, its goals and continuously improve the quality of work.
That said, agencies are best measured on outputs, not inputs – so let your agency allocate the staff that they feel are best for the job, and assess them based on the results they achieve.
- Can we get fewer/more updates?
Keeping communication channels open is a necessity for a productive relationship with your agency – they need to understand your goals, and you need clarity about what is getting done, and the impact of the strategy.
The best agencies will employ a diverse combination of people in their teams as they bring their own plus points to the table:
- Ex-agency employees – the ability to work in a fast paced environment, utilising the best mix of strategies and at the forefront of digital innovation
- Ex-client side employees – understanding of the demands of client side marketing, and the need to deliver ROI
- Graduates and early-career marketers– the next generation of strategist, defined by an eagerness to learn and deliver – typically selected for their high potential
Being able to adapt and keep the two companies in sync is an ongoing, shared responsibility but is vital if you’re going to deliver the best results.
Both parties should feel comfortable enough to talk about their needs for communications. That could be the client requesting more updates or the agency expressing concerns over a lack of contact with the client. Whether it’s less or more contact that’s needed, work together to establish the best way to proceed and find the right balance.
Treat your agency like you would your staff. Engage with them, befriend them and challenge them. Remember that you’re paying for a service and you have every right to transparency and to have them meet your specific needs.
There’s no such thing as a typical client, even within a single sector, so agencies need to adapt. With this comes the need for the client to be flexible and understanding of how agencies operate and work together to achieve great things.