Digital marketing continues to evolve from a product and technology perspective, but often the way in which our industry manages client engagement and expectations has not kept pace with these changes.
Huge investment in media spends without an overarching integrated marketing strategy, inexperienced marketers with little to no oversight being wholly responsible for large campaigns, lock-in contracts that lend themselves to amazing pitches and underwhelming results, a severe lack of trust and transparency around performance - all of these are common hallmarks of the old agency model.
There is a Better Way
Modern digital agencies should be challenging what has long been held as ‘industry standard’ and instead focus on foundations based on ‘best practice’.Some of the fundamentals that should be core to the agency offering are;
- Big picture strategies
- Experienced marketers
- Proper oversight and checks and balances
- Efficient & appropriate time investment
- Service flexibility
- Responsive account management
- Results based ROI not just metrics
We wanted to share our opinion on how digital marketers should be incorporating these practices into their agency processes so they can develop highly valued relationships with their clients and help lift the much maligned reputation of our industry.
Businesses Crave Big Picture Strategy
Businesses engage digital agencies to address specific marketing challenges, however this partnership falls short when they only focus on the short term tactical activities. We can throw some media spend at ads and create some blog posts or emails, but failing to combine marketing activities into a sophisticated interconnected strategy that addresses the clients’ overarching end goals is where many agencies falter.
True success and change for a business is driven by strategy that leads with the question - “what are we trying to achieve?”
Experience CountsA piece of feedback you never want to hear as an agency? “The only time I met or heard from the senior team members was at the initial pitch”.
Agencies can risk their long term reputation and ongoing client relationships by having an A-Team for sales and a B-Team for delivery. Senior and experienced marketers must lead the big picture strategy on each account AND keep a close eye on progress whilst also having strong processes with stringent checks and balances in place to oversight and develop less experienced team members.
Charge by Time, Not Media SpendThe old agency model relies on charging clients a percentage of media spend. This is an overly simplistic sliding scale that assumes the amount of effort required is tied purely to the amount of media being purchased, not the time required to perform analysis and implement creative or strategic campaign optimisations.
The new model (which we use at Revium) is to charge by the hour, regardless of media spend – this provides Marketers with the time needed to generate optimal ROI for the client’s investment. It also ensures accountability for every minute invested in optimising client campaigns – so that clients end up paying us for the work we do, instead of paying us a commission.
Flexible Campaign ArrangementsLock-in contracts are standard industry practice, but this prevents work from speaking for itself (which would make a lot more sense). Giving clients the choice to freely change their mind, should their agency not be living up to expectation, instils a level of trust and accountability and ensures the agency is always focussed on meeting the client’s needs and delivering the best possible performance for their campaigns. Agencies should back their people and systems and give clients confidence in them by offering more flexible cancellation options.
The other common rigid contract structure is to set fixed monthly investment amounts for each individual digital channel. However, these don’t account for the volatile nature of modern digital where focal points need to change week to week or month to month. Instead of shifting efforts from one channel to another clients are often forced to overspend on channels when there are seasonal lulls in desired activity or alternatively they are asked to invest additional funds if anything unexpected pops up in a particular channel that had already expended its monthly budget.
To counter this, activity across paid media, search, social, email and content marketing should instead sit within a fluid investment model - this allows for responsiveness and shifts in the balance of time spent across channels based on where it is needed most at that time. Working under a channel agnostic retainer enables more focus on driving business outcomes instead of ensuring a certain amount of budget is spent in each channel.
Hello? Is There Anybody Out There…?Emails go unanswered, phone calls are not returned – stall tactics of the poorly managed campaign. There is nothing worse than feeling ignored and de-prioritised, especially when you have paid for a specific service.
Lack of responsiveness from an agency can often be due to the sheer volume of tasks that overstretched staff are trying to manage or because the complexity of the questions means they are not equipped to answer.
Regardless of the challenges it may pose for an agency, we need to be responsive. At the end of the day our clients are paying our salaries and being there when you are needed is the foundation of any strong relationship.
Strong, Lasting Professional Relationships Built on Consistency, Stability & Trust“I’ve been to <large number> of digital agencies over the last <short period of time>” can be a frequent comment in the early stages of discussions with a new client.
Clients that ping-pong from agency to agency do so out of frustration that the Agency ‘over promised and underdelivered’, setting the foundation for a poor working partnership from the outset.
From our experience, the best partnerships have a clear theme which include;
- Consistency of quality work
- Team stability, and;
For an agency to operate in this manner and deliver to the client’s expectations, these themes need to align with the agency’s values.
At Revium one of our key values of “Do Great Work”. This aligns to both delivering outstanding service, strategy and being enjoyable to work with at an interpersonal level. At the end of the day, we are all people trying to do our best, so agencies should seek to partner with great people who they enjoy working with (then deliver some remarkable work along the way).
Over the past few years some less than ideal behaviours by a small number of unprincipled operators has eroded the level of trust in the digital industry. As a result transparency has become a bit of a focus in the digital marketing space - and rightfully so. When looking for a fully transparent agency, ensure you are armed with the right questions:
- Who is working on your account and where are they based?
- Do you get time sheet reports that show how many hours were spent on your account and what was achieved each month?
- Do you own your own advertising accounts - or are they owned by your agency?
- DO you have access to the raw data on your advertising or are you relying solely on data supplied by your agency?
- How is your display / video media purchased? Is it done by your agency? Do they use an internal trading desk?
- What are the SEO principles and methodologies your agency follows – are they putting you at risk of penalties as the Google algorithm evolves?
- These are just a handful questions that an agency should be happy to answer, and should ensure full transparency throughout your relationship.
Performance: Are You Meeting Your Targets?At the end of the day, businesses partner with an agency to deliver results which align with the big picture business objectives. We should be able to accurately measure the success of activities by providing periodic reporting on how they are tracking.
At times the feedback may not be 100% positive, and there will be instances where an honest conversation is required. Marketing is a competitive industry and sometimes you can get out-foxed, but the majority of the time we should be achieving our targets and the client’s business goals. Success needs to be celebrated and capitalised on while challenges can be learned from to drive better performance.
In SummaryWe are at a point in time where there is a wonderful opportunity for our industry to move forward by distancing ourselves from the less progressive ways of the old agency model and taking a more principled approach that will enable us to truly become trusted, highly valued partners to our clients.
Living and breathing this new model and engraining it in everything you do could be the key in driving your agency’s ongoing growth and success.