Years ago, the typical agency/client relationship lasted seven years.
Today, it’s becoming more common for clients to choose to work with multiple firms for specific tactics and shorter projects. Long-term partnerships with an agency for both services and projects are also becoming common as business needs grow more complex.
No doubt, an agency relationship is a big step for a business — especially if it’s the first time. With the right agency partner, those stretch goals and aggressive projects are in reach, project that can take your business to the next level. If you take steps to determine your needs first, ask the right questions and establish appropriate boundaries, you will be well on your way to a profitable partnership that grows your business.
What are your Goals?
The best relationships start with deep insight into what your real needs are. What are your goals and objectives? Do you want more sales? More leads? Better marketing collateral? A new website? Just like any business transaction, if you come unprepared, you are setting yourself up to be exploited.
A Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) analysis of your business can go a long way in helping you determine how an agency can contribute to your marketing success. As your business goals and needs come into perspective, you can start digging a little deeper into how you can best use the agency resources. Answering the following questions may help your analysis.
- Are your sales dwindling?
- Do you have big dreams for your business, but can’t spare the manpower to achieve them?
- Are you successfully connecting with customers and prospects?
- Are you in need of a fresh approach in your market?
- Is your message resonating with prospects and promoting a loyal following?
- Are you empowering your employees to be brand ambassadors?
- Are you branching into new markets?
- Are you refreshing your brand?
- Do you need to migrate your website?
- Are you implementing new digital tactics?
To provide you the best service and support possible, the agency needs to know your goals. Without that direction, the partnership is likely to go sideways as your partners struggle to give you what they think you need, and you struggle to make the most of your agency partner. The more direction you can give your partners, the better they can help you.
Any business runs better with clear and well-communicated goals.
Finding the Best Agency for your Business
It’s also important to find the right agency partner. That’s not always an easy task.
In fact, according to recent statistics, there were nearly 40,000 agencies operating in the United States in 2017, a number that continues to grow.
You have a lot of choices, so let’s look at how you can find the right one.
Let your Friends Hook You Up
Referrals are usually the best leads you’ll ever receive.
Find colleagues who have recently hired an agency. Ask them how they handled the vetting process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about budgets, performance metrics, and even personality fit with the account and creative team.
The more you prepare, the better you’ll be able to determine an ideal match.
Filter out the Misfits
The truth is that every business will have different needs. They may be simple and project oriented, or they may extend to more complex work like branding and omnichannel campaign work. Not every agency will be a fit.
Perhaps what you need is a service organization ready to deliver the creative support and able to fill gaps on your team. Or, maybe you need a boutique firm that specializes in digital marketing, or a comprehensive, results-driven agency able to offer hands-on account support.
No matter your need, the marketing firm you work with should have experience in your industry. Check to see if they’ve delivered results on goals similar to yours. Can they meet your needs? Do they have the expertise on hand? If they don’t have the experience, they may not be the right agency for you.
Beyond that, make sure that your company culture aligns with the culture of the agency. This might seem like a silly requirement, and not nearly as important as the experience an agency brings, but consider that your account rep will soon be an integral part of your project team. The right cultural fit is the basis of a productive and smooth relationship.
Filter your agency options by removing companies that aren’t a fit or don’t have the skills or expertise you need.
Background check them, Really!
Is the marketing firm a one-stop shop for all of your digital marketing needs, or do they specialize in only one or two services? Take a look at the marketing firm’s website and scope out their “Clients” or “Portfolio” section. Does the agency put care into its own brand profile? Is their website well designed? Does it reflect relevant thought leadership? Is the firm making good use of social media?
Also, be sure to check them out on Yelp, Google and LinkedIn to see how business owners like you have experienced their services. Not a match? Keep looking.
Like their portfolio of work? Does the website have the impact you are looking for? Take a look at their About Us web page. Do the values of the agency match the values of your business? If you have a good idea of your project goals and like what you see about the agency, then schedule a time to talk.
Getting Started with an Agency Partner
Make sure you’ve done your homework before you meet. Write out your goals, schedule a date and come prepared to your initial meeting with a clear vision of what you want to see from the relationship.
Learn about their attitude and approach to creative development. Ask about their processes. Let the marketing firm know how accessible you are and what type of involvement and resources you expect from them. Set your expectations, including:
- Consider your budget vs. agency size in order to ensure your account gets the attention it deserves.
- Are industry background or marketplace expertise crucial?
- Create a list of services that are important to you (branding, digital marketing, PR, social media, etc.).
- Are you comfortable with a long-distance relationship? Will meetings be held on-site or online?
- If you already have an in-house marketing team, consider how an agency will work with and augment it.
- Ask for relevant case studies. What experience does the agency bring to the table for you?
- Ask whether the same people involved in pitching your account are going to be the same team servicing your business.
Put your Agency Partner to the Test
Have your search committee evaluate the agencies based the questions you’ve established, background checks, referrals you’ve received, and their pitch.
Keep in mind, if your personalities don’t jive at the onset of the relationship, then you may likely have issues down the road. No amount of client referrals or success stories will overcome the gut feeling that you simply can’t work together. So, be sure to ask some personality or cultural fit interview questions before you sign a contract.
The truth is that no one knows more about your business, the markets you serve and your customers than you do. A Request for Proposal (RFP) can help define the expectations you have and services you require for the budget you’ve allotted.
It’s a Match!
The selection process typically works to unveil a clear winner. It’s important to clarify what makes an agency the strongest candidate and why their expertise and culture and particular skills are going to be right for you. The good news is that when you find a good firm with talented people who understand your business, there’s a great chance you’ll see substantial dividends from working together.
Still unsure if an agency is right for you and your business? Start with a smaller project to test the agency and get a better idea of how the partnership will work. With the right partner, this small initial investment can quickly lead to a relationship that can push your business to new heights.
Saying “I do” and Getting Started with an agency
Before your first project starts, there’s paperwork to be finished, including:
- Terms and fees
- Idea ownership
- Non-compete clauses
After that, the real work on growing your business and meeting your goals begins. Remember to stay on top of the projects and stay available to your partner agency in case they need feedback. They are there to help you meet your goals, and no one knows your goals better than you.
Ultimately, your bottom line is the bottom line. You want a good return on your investment in an agency relationship. Often, agency resources are just what your business needs when it comes to optimizing your ROI for a project and increasing the value of marketing efforts.
With careful preparation, planning and a focus on building an equitable relationship, you can turn a short-term benefit into a fulfilling relationship that goes the distance for your business.