Commentary / Stacey Getz

How to Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Agency

If you’ve ever hired a marketing agency, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of “outlandish” ideas, awkward silences and unmet expectations.

The good news is that you’re not alone – many organizations struggle to find harmony with their marketing agencies. The bad news is that they often waste valuable time and resources in the process. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are six things you can do to get the most out of the relationship.

Know what you’re aiming for (and make sure they do too)

While any good agency will do its best to manage your expectations, you must do your part to communicate what those expectations are. Why did you hire a marketing agency to begin with? What do you want out of the relationship? How can the agency help you reach your goals? Once you understand each other, you can work together to outline common indicators of success. This gets everyone on the same page and drastically reduces the urge to kill each other as things progress.

Prepare to engage

Strong relationships require active participation by both parties involved. If you think you can redirect your attention to “more important things” after inking a contract with your agency, think again. They will need you to consider ideas, review deliverables and make important – and often timely – decisions in order to achieve the results you’ve asked them to produce. If you fail to get your head in the game, go AWOL, or consistently miss deadlines, then you can expect project delays and subpar results to boot.

Get uncomfortable

The brands that get the most out of their marketing agencies take calculated, justifiable risks, even when it scares the heck out of them. They understand that in order to see an improvement in their marketing efforts, something has to change. This might mean taking a decidedly different approach than anyone else in their industry, revamping a stale process or procedure, or adjusting the way they relate to the news media. However, that doesn’t mean you should follow every piece of advice you receive. In fact, good agencies expect you to challenge them and view your questions as opportunities to teach you the science behind what they do. Bottom line: If a recommendation can’t be supported by sound research, ditch it. But when the data fits, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

A little trust goes a long way

Like it or not, your agency knows more about this marketing stuff than you do. After all, that’s why you hired them, and there will come a time when you will simply have to trust their counsel. Do yourself a favor and take these lessons to heart now before you damage your relationship without even knowing it:

  • Good design is seldom subjective.
  • Good design is seldom subjective (that’s worth repeating).
  • Some colors just don’t go well with others, regardless of your personal preference.
  • White space is almost always a good thing.
  • Paper selection for a brochure or annual report is a BIG deal.
  • Your logo rarely needs to be the biggest (or second-biggest) thing on the page.
  • We might make it look like magic, but technology does have its limitations.
  • You probably don’t need a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram AND Pinterest account.
  • There IS a right way to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis.
  • Sending out more press releases will not increase your chances of getting news coverage.
  • If you want “guaranteed media placement,” skip the press release and buy an ad.

If you’ve done your due diligence, the professionals you hired are just that – professionals – and they want to help you. Let them.

Don’t take it personally

This one’s tough, especially if you’re personally invested in your brand (as you should be). When your agency points out flaws in your approach to marketing and communication – and specifically when those flaws are revealed in reliable, independent research – swallow your pride, take a deep breath and ask where to go from here. Contrary to what you might think, your agency isn’t trying to be difficult, tick you off or start a fight. They actually want you to succeed as much as you do. Think about it – success for you means more business for them. And if the folks you’ve hired are as competitive as we are, then they probably find few things more fulfilling than turning your challenges into something so overwhelmingly successful that it earns them that much more respect from their competitors.

Don’t be THAT client

While the only data I have to substantiate this claim involves fictional cable television characters from the 1960’s, I’m pretty sure that marketing and communication professionals consume alcohol more heavily and more frequently than those who work in most other professions. And it’s not because they’re looking for a good time. It’s to keep them from beating their heads up against the wall every time they interact with a terrible client. Here’s how to know if that’s you:

  • You refuse to accept what research says (or worse yet, you refuse to get to know your target audience through research) and insist you know best – every time.
  • You consistently ignore your agency’s counsel and/or often go against their research-based recommendations.
  • You treat everything like an emergency (trust us, it’s not)
  • You take exception when your agency doesn’t just “do as you have asked” (seriously, save your money and hire an intern).

Don’t be that client. Every agency has a pain threshold, and some clients just aren’t worth it. If an agency can’t do its job because of strict limitations and shortsightedness on the client’s part, the relationship isn’t going to benefit anyone. If you work for an agency, did we leave anything off the list? If you’re a client and you think your agency can be just as big of a pill as you can you be (for the record, you’re probably right), then what can we do about it? Go ahead, lay it all out on the table.