The client-agency relationship is not without its ups and downs. I’ve spent time in both camps, and experienced the highs and lows.
Using a digital agency for many companies is a necessary expense to access expertise and skills that don’t naturally exist in-house. I’ll put my hand up right now and tell you that as a client I didn’t always use this expertise properly. Sometimes I couldn’t because of internal politics (“Please can you add that drop shadow so the most senior person in the company gets off my back?”) or because I didn’t know how to do it (“Please can you auto-resize 12,000 images?”).
When I joined the agency side and faced similar requests, I felt like a thoroughbred horse being asked to run the Shetland Grand National. I knew that I could be making a real difference for the person at the other end, but they weren’t making the most and best use of the time they had bought. I also wanted my client to look good to their audience and peers. Ultimately I wanted them to have success and share that with them.
This is what all digital agencies want to do for their clients but it’s difficult unless you are in tune with each other. Agencies have a responsibility to their clients and I hope the points below help you make sure yours delivers the best value and service to you.
1. Keep the audience front of mind
I’m always surprised at how little research is done on a prospective or new audience – for example, to understand their issues or how they would respond to a new product or service. This applies to all company sizes, new and established.
Understanding an audience’s needs, characteristics and online habits is critical to digital strategy. It’s often skipped over with little appreciation of what it’s like to be in the end user’s shoes, partly because the perception of digital marketing is that it is free and easy. Digital audiences are not homogeneous and more are complex than people who use the internet and those that don’t.
If you want to do something different, make sure it is something that will resonate with the audience. Do the proper research, develop an understanding and keep the next point below in mind.
2. Be realistic
“We really don’t like the web as a medium. Can you please force visitors to print out a copy of every page? We want our site to be more…tangible.” (Clients From Hell, Channel V Books, p50)
I’ve seen my fair share of briefs like the above.
Everyone wants to be different. Everyone wants something unique. And we all love the opportunity to make our competitors green with envy. However, it can distract you from the main focal point – your audience.
Do I want to do something new that will make you lots of money? Yes! Do I want to do something that makes your audience say “THAT IS COOL”. Hell yeah! But I also want to be responsible and point out ideas or requests that are off the mark.
Before you ask for the reinvention of the internet, ask these questions:
- Is this what my audience wants/needs?
- Is it useful to them?
- Is it actually solving any problems for them?
- Will they even use it?
If you can answer these convincingly then we’re onto something. If not, reconsider if this is where you want agency time and money spent.
3. One point of contact
Sending multiple requests from multiple people to the agency is a quick way to suck your budget and time, especially if the requests could be fulfilled in-house (or are genuinely crazy ideas). It’s also an easy way to get derailed from any goals that have been set.
In large organisations this may be hard to avoid but someone on each side should be in control of what is being requested, when it will be delivered and who will sign it off.
This isn’t to say that agencies should restrict access to a few people on their side. There are clearly times when it makes sense to open up access to wider teams so questions can be answered quickly.
4. Review the work you are asking the agency for
This is another area that can maximise your time with the agency and flag up any internal issues with knowledge and skills gaps.
Remember what you are employing a digital agency for: asking them to provide copy for a printed flyer is probably not going to be their forte (unless they specifically provide that service). Looking at requests will help you see where repeated needs are appearing. For example if you are requesting more content creation than expected, how much is it costing you to use an agency? It could be more effective to:
- Hire or outsource to a copy writer to reduce cost
- Training team members to be better copy writers
Requirements and needs change over time so expect to reassess and reset what you are asking the agency to do.
5. Set KPIs
Setting KPIs = setting expectations.
We’ve all been there.
“I thought you were…” and then you realise that you both had different ideas of what was going to happen. Agreeing how work will be measured helps both parties focus on what needs to happen and where you need to go.
It is crucial that you also pick the right metrics. Avoid anything general such as number of Twitter followers or average site bounce rate – they really aren’t telling you much about performance.
Delve deeper into channel activity where metrics such as page engagement, cost per acquisition and cost per conversion will give you a better idea of the impact the digital agency is having on your company.