Finally. The economy is improving. Businesses are beginning to invest in marketing again. And, while many of us were hunkering down and doing the best we could during the recession, the whole marketing world has turned upside down in the past seven years. Consider the following:
- Marketing has become a technology-based practice. In fact, there are now almost 1,900 products to help marketers do their work. (Caution: that link goes to a scary infographic.)
- There are now more than a dozen disciplines in digital marketing And these disciplines cross the traditional marketing organization structure in ways that affect the entire structure of a marketing organization; as interdependence grows.
- By 2017, 25% of marketing organizations will need to solve critical skill gaps, says IDC, by “deploying internal Centers of Excellence…”.
And CEOs are pushing marketers hard. Just last week, Brad Jakeman, President of PepsiCo’s beverage group, boldly told the Association of National Advertising’s annual “Masters of Marketing” conference attendees, “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing — most of which happens to be digital.” He urged marketers to create digital cultures, not digital departments.
Got a marketing predicament? An agency might be your answer
There’s a lot of heavy lifting for CMOs to properly manage an effective, efficient, and results-driven marketing organization. Increasing your reliance on an agency – even in the short term – can be a smart way to bridge the skills / organizational / technology marketing gap.
I’ve seen agencies be effective partners in the following scenarios:
- I need to get ready for a marketing automation implementation. How do I augment my team to get it done?
- I lost a key employee to another company. Who’s going to pick up their work?
- My business is growing and I don’t have the internal team to support the growth … How do I augment my existing team until / or instead of hiring new employees?
- My team is bumping up against their current levels of competencies. I need them to grow. Short of sending them off to classes, how will I get them up to speed on best practices quickly?
How do I know which agency is MY agency?
We’ve all lived through the agency pitch. The case studies are compelling. The positioning is smart, polished, and nicely presented. The people around the table seem competent. Isn’t there a “secret sauce” to tell them apart?
In my years of hiring and firing agencies, I’ve developed a few basic – but important – rules to remember. I call them the (new) Four Ps…
The Four Ps: Your Agency Selection Checklist
Marketing is a people-centric business, in spite of all the technology at hand. So the first thing you have to consider is simple. Who is your day-to-day team? You have to like them
and respect them. And be able to learn from them. In my opinion, nothing is more important than the promise that your team will truly get along with their counterparts on the agency side.
Don’t hesitate to do a little people-matching as you look at potential agency partners. And don’t be afraid to play a little chess before you sign up for services to get the best people for your team on your team. If the agency wants your business, they’ll want the best match too.
Your agency should be well versed in today’s modern marketing best practices. So dig in. Do they practice what they preach? Check them out thoroughly, especially online:
- Is their website mobile responsive?
- Have they optimized their site for search with smart title tags and alt-tags?
- Can they tell you who their personas are? By name? How deeply can they describe each one?
- Do they use a marketing automation platform themselves?
- How often do they post to their blog?
- How do they “show up” in social media?
- How do you feel about their content? Is it educational? Entertaining? Does it represent their agency well?
- How do they interpret the data they get from their systems? (Go ahead. Ask. Hypothetical situations can be extremely illuminating!)
- Ask the agency to show you examples of the reports you’d see on a weekly/monthly/quarterly basis.
- If they show you vanity metrics, steer clear!
- If they show you convoluted paths that “sort of” show a correlation to revenue, keep your guard up.
It’s important to understand whether your marketing agency leads by example. Simply put, if they’re not showcasing the best in modern marketing, I recommend you move along and find someone who does. Marketing moves too quickly to put your stock into an agency that doesn’t stay on the cutting edge – so you can stay on the leading edge.
Point #1 notwithstanding, it’s important that any agency have well-documented processes. Compatible people are critical as you enter into trusted relationships. But proven processes make those compatible people highly effective – no matter the situation. And truly, results are what matter in any agency-client relationship.
I have found that the best agencies have well-documented, tried and true processes for their primary activities. So go ahead and ask about the processes you’re about to embark upon together.
- What kinds of activities and timelines should you expect?
- What are the agency’s expectations of you and your team?
- What kinds of progress reports will you get?
- How much customization will be necessary to report to your senior leadership team?
Every marketing agency is a part of an ecosystem. And that ecosystem is an important indicator of the agency’s successful approach. Explore:
- How does the agency interact with other marketing leaders in their region?
- In the country? Around the world?
- How do agency leaders contribute to their ecosystems?
- To their communities?
You can gain insights into the approach and success of an agency by the company it keeps. How an agency engages within the community can also expose their true thought leadership potential. Today, successful agency-client relationships are driven as much by shared experiences as by cultures and goals.
So explore the agency ecosystem. Do you like who shows up with them? Are you comfortable with their place within their community? If so, you’re likely to form a strong partnership yourselves.
Taken together, these are strong indicators of (yet another) P…
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This free eBook, The High-Performance Marketing Department, is a savvy guide to marketing roles new and old, and will help you decide which ones to outsource to your agency partner, and which ones to build on internally.