6 tips for a successful digital agency partnership

'mans' by Xavi Talleda

Over the last 7 years, I’ve had experience of working with various different traditional and digital marketing agencies. Whilst one agency’s skill set may differ from another, what I have found to be consistent is the way in which many agencies operate and how clients can get the best from a working relationship with them.

Working with a marketing agency should be a collaborative relationship. With digital marketing moving at such a frightening pace, it’s important to work closely with an agency and allow them to provide strategic insight and know-how whilst acting as an extension of the client’s in-house team.

In this post I’d like to share a few thoughts on how you, as a client, can establish a productive working relationship with your digital marketing agency so you can make the most of the partnership.

1. Set out your goals and objectives

In order for an agency to understand what you want to achieve, it’s important to clearly outline your goals and objectives early on in the relationship (as early as the pitch process and then re-iterate as priorities change).

These goals need to be aligned with what your particular agency or set of agencies can deliver. A digital marketing agency can come in many different forms:

  • Integrated – often a digital extension of an already established traditional marketing agency
  • Digital full-service – offer a combination of SEO, social media and affiliate marketing services with web design capabilities
  • Search marketing specialists – search engine optimisation specialists, often with expertise in pay per click (PPC), too
  • Inbound marketing specialists – these include agencies that specialise in content marketing, with expertise in social media, SEO and content production
  • Mobile marketing specialists – focus on apps, mobile messaging and potentially site design.

The key is to establish early on exactly what you want to achieve and how an agency can help. By being honest up front, it will allow you to choose an agency that has the right skills, expertise and personnel to help you work to fulfilling your business and marketing objectives.

2. Establish agreed working arrangements

Once you’ve decided on the digital marketing agency you want to work with, the next step is to establish an agreed working arrangement.

It’s important to agree from the beginning:

  • What will be the nature of the work? Strategic, tactical or a combination?
  • What is the service level agreement (SLA) and the turnaround time for work?
  • How will you measure activity and results? What KPIs will you measure?
  • Who will meet whom, when and how often?
  • How will the briefing process work?
  • How will information and data be shared and distributed?

By establishing an agreed working arrangement, both you and your agency can go about your work with confidence, knowing who is supposed to play what part.

3. Create focused briefs

Many clients often expect their agency to read their minds and figure out not only the problems they have but also how to solve them. However, without a tight, focused brief that outlines exactly what you want and how you want to achieve it, you’re unlikely to get the best our of your agency.

Whilst it’s the agency’ role to provide insight and expertise that the client lacks internally, it is the client’s role to guide an agency towards the work they want produced. It’s therefore up to you to provide the agency with detailed briefs that contains:

  • Business background – what are you trying to achieve
  • Objectives
  • Target audience
  • Key messages
  • Timings

Much of what you’re looking to achieve and your objectives will allow your agency to consider the best digital marketing approach to take. What may have initially seemed like a straightforward link-building project for SEO, may in fact turn into a content marketing project that encompasses both SEO and social media marketing.

However, a collaborative approach always works best and allows the client and agency to align their thinking.

4. Keep on top of budget and costs

Considering the current economic climate, budgeting is more important than ever. Whilst you may be working on a retainer with your agency, there may also be projects that are an extension to this agreement.

Regardless of the size of a project, always consider the agreed budget and ways to keep on top of growing costs. Whilst I am not suggesting that your agency will be looking to rack up costs for their own benefit, it is in their interest to produce as much work as possible.

Agree early on the scope of the project and ensure you manage both your agency and internal stakeholders effectively to keep control of budget, costs and timings.

5. Focus on knowledge transfer

When working with a digital marketing agency, always consider how you can benefit from knowledge transfer at every touchpoint of your relationship.

An agency with have a depth of knowledge and expertise that is unlikely to exist within your company (that’s why you’re working with them!). Working with them will therefore give you the opportunity to learn and develop as a result of the work you produce together.

Never become overly reliant on what your agency is telling you. It’s important to build up an understanding of your own so that you can more confidently challenge them on their proposals, ideas and suggestions.

6. Measure results

As with any activity, measurement is key. Go back to your initial meetings and discussions and consider what you’ve achieved over time since working with your agency.

Go over the shared goals, objectives and KPIs you set up with your agency and ask whether you’ve achieved what you’ve wanted with them over the time you’ve been working together.

If your agency specialises in SEO, then you’ll want to have seen an improvement in overall rankings for your top target key phrases, an increase in non-brand organic traffic and an improvement in the quality of visitors to your site.

Whilst if you’re working with an agency that specialises in social media marketing, you’ll want to have seen an overall improvement in engagement with your content, brand awareness and consideration of your product/ service portfolio through multiple social channels.

The key is to analyse not just how the agency has performed, but how both you and your agency have worked together to meet the objectives set out from the start of the relationship. By making an honest assessment, you can then work out how to move forward.

A version of this post was originally published on Smart Insights on 27th February 2013. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure!