Working with an integrated marketing agency can be a beautiful, productive experience. Agencies are chock-full of creative, inspired individuals who love to craft their clients’ visions and bring brands to life.
But like any solid relationship, you get out what you put in. A talented agency can work with just north of nothing, but the more information you have when you kick off the agency experience, the better the end result will be.
So before you go calling your favorite agency with dreams of grandeur, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
1. What do I want from an agency partner?
If you don’t know what services or skills you need your agency to provide, start by articulating what your biggest pain points are and how they impact your business. Maybe it’s something that eats up valuable time, causes you to lose opportunities, or is simply keeping your business from getting noticed. Whatever those pain points are, knowing where the proverbial “bodies are buried” will help focus your conversations with potential agencies.
Even if you aren’t planning on issuing a formal RFP (request for proposal), pretend as if you are. If you had to craft a wishlist of the work you want your agency partner to do for you, what would be on it? Consider creating multiple lists—one with your “must-haves” and one with your “nice-to-haves,” should budget, timing and skillset permit.
(Side note: if the agency contact you’re speaking with doesn’t ask about your business’s pain points or performance, move on! You deserve to work with a partner who cares about more than just the revenue you represent to their agency.)
2. How am I going to measure the success of our partnership?
Here at The James Agency, we know that hiring an agency partner is a huge investment of time and money, so how are you planning on justifying that investment either to yourself or to the rest of your organization? If you haven’t thought about this yet, we recommend doing so before you reach out to potential partners or issue your RFP.
Potential clients often think about the intangible measurements like responsiveness, thoroughness, pro-activity, overall attitude and the quality of the work you’re receiving. But what about the things you can measure? How much of an increase in sales are you looking for? Perhaps it’s an increase in traffic to your website or engagement with the content you’re creating. Communicating a clear channel for success will help you and your agency feel confident about the partnership.
3. How much money do I want to spend with an agency?
Working with an agency is like working with an architect: they can design you a studio apartment or a Tuscan villa, but they need to know your budget and your expectations for the final product. Knowing your maximum “all-in” budget for engaging an agency will help them prioritize the activities and deliverables that will make the biggest impact on your goal.
4. What do I know about my customers? Do I know enough or do I want to know more?
The more you know about your target audience, the further your dollars go. Being laser focused cuts out the fat: you’ll spend less money exposing your brand to people who aren’t right for you and your agency partner will be able to develop creative that resonates stronger with your audience.
Here are the levels of audience knowledge efforts you can/should strive to achieve. Each level includes all the efforts that precede it.
The Audience Knowledge Tiers
The bare minimum = Google Analytics for your website
Bronze = your customer relationship management (CRM) data and email subscriber list
Silver = customer list (people who have bought from you or are current clients)
Gold = customer surveys or third party research data
5. What have we done in the past that’s worked well or completely bombed?
Your potential agency partner can learn a lot from what you’ve already tried! Share with them the creative and tactics you’ve run in the past, including performance metrics. This will help them avoid going down similar roads or discover opportunities to optimize.
6. Do I have enough data to make decisions with?
Think about your current structure and ask yourself if you feel like you have the right tracking mechanisms in place to actively monitor return on your investments. This not only means analytics on your website, but ways of tying conversions back to marketing efforts and evaluate attribution. If you aren’t doing this currently, share this with your agency so that they can help you set these mechanisms up. It’s really important to have a plan for how you’re going to track success or at a minimum how you will be collecting data that will empower you to make smarter decisions in the future.
7. Who else within my organization do I need to convince?
Let your agency partner help you sell your internal stakeholders on why. Whether it’s why you need an agency partner or why you should execute the tactics they’re recommending, let the agency help you bring the rest of your organization along on the journey. Especially if you have internal stakeholders that will need some convincing, share that up front and ask your agency partner to help you sell the solution.
We can tell you from years of experience: if your key stakeholders aren’t on board, you’re in for an uphill battle. Why make it harder on yourself?
8. What baggage from my last relationship am I bringing into this relationship?
At least half of the CEOs and marketing executives we’ve met have had bad experiences working with other agency partners. It really helps to hear those negative experiences; it allows us to directly address them and ensure our team is paying special attention to those areas.
9. What’s the reality of my personal time commitment?
Long term, the goal of an agency partner is to free up your time to focus on the things that really fill your cup and move the needle on your goals. However, it’s important to know that seamless, symbiotic relationships don’t happen overnight. In the beginning, agencies will want to spend quite a bit of time with you understanding your vision, your aesthetic preferences and how you work best. Be honest about your availability and make sure your agency partner understands how much time you have to dedicate.
We’ve found that projects get derailed from their timelines most often because of clients who “sit” on creative proofs or presentations for longer than the timeline allows. Nothing slows progress faster! Put a time-block or meeting on the calendar with your internal stakeholders when you know deliverables will be coming for review and for when feedback is due to the agency. Keep those projects on track!
10. Who are my biggest competitors?
Do you know who your biggest competition is? If not, we recommend spending some time considering this before engaging an agency partner. Consider not only who you actively compete with, but also brands you really admire and that you think are doing it well. Knowing your competition will empower your agency to ensure the work you develop together is actively setting you apart from the other brands you are often compared against by customers.
These questions might take some time to get through, but it’s an exercise in brand soul-searching. Before you commit to an agency relationship, answering these questions will set you up for long-term success. Before you know it, you’ll be knee deep in compelling creative and meeting your business goals.
Speaking of, The James Agency happens to be one of those full-service advertising agencies. If you’re ready to work with an agency partner, we’d love to hear from you and chat about your vision. Don’t be afraid to hit us up for things like social media, go-to-market strategies and creative development.
Ashley Winkel is the partnership development director at Scottsdale-based The James Agency. Ashley aligns potential client needs with TJA’s areas of expertise. Building on 15 years as a Client Services powerhouse, she understands both the big picture and the finer details. She collaborates closely with the directors to build strategies that produce tangible results and move the needle on clients’ business goals. Learn more at www.thejamesagency.com.