Tips for finding, choosing and collaborating with a new marketing agency.
It’s vital to find a branding, marketing and creative agency that understands your company’s working style, goals, and success metrics. But even after you’ve identified an agency that suits your needs, your relationship can still be a tricky one to navigate. On one hand, it’s a transactional business relationship tied to objectives and goals. On the other, it’s an engagement between real people who need to trust and understand each other. Otherwise, your entire experience will suffer, and so will your results.
The wrong-fit branding or marketing agency can make every process a daily struggle. Lack of clarity around tasks, disorganized deliverables, and meetings that feel like a transaction rather than a collaboration are all side effects of a poor working relationship. Beyond a bad experience, these bad-fit situations don’t lead to the results you need for your organization.
Here’s how to ensure your agency search leads you down the right path.
What Makes for a Good Marketing Agency/Client Relationship?
Your organization’s workstyle, communication preferences, and professional goals will influence what an ideal agency partner looks like. No matter what your unique preferences are, there are three key pillars of a good working relationship.
- Honesty and Transparency: marketing is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes it’s rapid leadership turnover or massive disruption. Share with your agency the good and the bad, and make it safe for them to be honest with you, too. This provides the visibility an agency needs to come prepared to work through the best possible solution to your specific challenges.
- Trust: Any agency you hire must be able to demonstrate detailed understanding about the industry-specific challenges you face. Your agency also needs to trust your insights, knowledge, and experience. Without this two-way trust, meaningful collaboration can’t happen. You hired an agency for a reason, whether it’s the deep experience they have in the healthcare industry, or the creative strategies that resonate with patients and their families. Don’t hire someone if you can’t empower and trust them to get the results you’re after.
- Accountability and Respect: Although your engagement with a marketing agency is a business relationship, remember that there are real people at the core of that business. Handling the ups and downs of the tumultuous, post-pandemic economy with kindness and respect (such as providing timely feedback on a campaign that doesn’t quite strike the right note at first blush, giving a chance to re-evaluate) ensures your agency will always feel empowered to ask questions or talk through mistakes and opportunities.
What Should You Expect from a Marketing Agency?
Prior experience and proven results are excellent indicators of excellence — and almost every agency has some success stories to share. To find the right fit for your organization, focus on shared values and team workstyles. It’s important you find the right fit when you are sharing the responsibility for your brand’s success with an outside agency.
You should expect:
- Thorough and consistent communication: Your agency needs to keep you informed at regular intervals so you’re not in the dark, and not surprised. Does an agency leave you asking more questions instead of answering them?
- Respectful pushback: You don’t need a “yes-man” agency. Rather, you need a team who’s willing to challenge you. Whether it’s because something is unlikely to succeed or a desired path or media buy is well outside your budget, if your agency has the courage to tell you they disagree with you, it’s a hallmark of honesty and respect.
- Fresh, savvy ideas: Does the agency keep up with current events, industry news, and healthcare-specific expertise? The healthcare industry is complex. It has more nuance and regulations than most industries, and the outcomes affect real people — patients. Your agency should bring ideas based on the current state of the industry to help position you as a leader.
- Measurable results: Not all results look like final revenue numbers, but you should expect your agency to work with you to define success through agreed-upon KPIs and prove your shared efforts are on the right track. If not, they should be more than eager to adjust course.
What Do Marketing Agencies Look for in Their Clients?
A successful agency/client relationship isn’t one-sided. You have to find the right fit for your budget and needs. And an agency has expectations of its clients, too.
To get the best results, be open to collaboration and receptive to new ideas. Remember that you can supercharge your efforts and run more innovative campaigns when you treat an agency like a partner, rather than a production house.
In addition, set your own team up for success by providing dedicated resources to devote to the agency partnership. Whether it’s a point of contact that handles all the approvals or specific workflows that alert you when a task is due, dedicating resources to work directly with your agency contributes to success. Your agency should provide project management, AND your team needs to be a part of the process, too.
Above all, come to the table with curiosity. Some of our best clients are the ones who are involved at every step. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know exactly how this could work, but we’d love to work with you to brainstorm the next steps together.”
Six Tips for Building a Great Relationship with Your Agency
Once you’ve found the right partner to help you navigate the complexities of healthcare marketing, make sure you make the most of it. Here are six steps to put you on the path to success.
1. Start off on the right foot
The conversations you have before your engagement begins are vital to the success of your partnership. Explain your goals early on, ask questions, and ensure you truly understand your agency’s ethos — not only around marketing, but the entire healthcare landscape.
Be prepared to give your agency helpful information, too. Providing context around your business goals, previous departmental challenges, and objectives of working together can set your relationship on a more successful path.
2. Onboard with purpose
Onboarding is the foundation of your partnership. And while a good agency should have a clear onboarding process for clients, it’s just as important to embrace your internal team’s responsibilities.
Whenever possible, don’t skip meetings or send a substitute without authority to advance the work. Show up and be engaged in the process. Ask questions and be sure you understand how things work to avoid unnecessary hiccups or surprises down the road. Do your part to set up the necessary systems to ensure smooth and timely processes and expectations from the start.
3. When in doubt, overshare
Be open to sharing insights beyond just surface marketing information. Knowledge about looming industry trends or overarching business concerns help your agency identify the right solutions for your company.
Some clients are more reserved when it comes to sharing information. They may feel as though giving too much information might add more work for their marketing agency. However, not giving your agency the whole story creates more obstacles and can end up wasting valuable time, or even worse, tackling symptoms instead of the root problem that needs to be solved. Don’t hamstring your agency’s ability to fully understand your position and your industry, as that will only lead to less-than-optimized performance and subpar results.
4. Be ambitious, but realistic
The best way to build a strong partnership and ensure a successful marketing journey is to show up with realistic expectations and work together to devise a framework to measure success. This means having conversations with your agency to discuss how you can set your goals high, but make sure you can still achieve them.
B2B campaigns in particular are often multi-faceted. In many industries, buyers and end users usually aren’t the same person. Set KPIs together with your agency (and your sales team!) and work in tandem to figure out the best way to measure the actual impact of your campaigns. That will help keep you and your agency rowing in the same direction on each initiative.
5. Keep lines of communication open
Critical feedback can be a tricky thing to deliver. When you aren’t completely happy with a deliverable, or feel communication has fallen off, it’s important to share that right away. Agencies want you to be successful, even if it means re-evaluating a campaign or tactics.
Direct feedback helps to course correct before anything goes awry and gives both you and your agency another chance to learn each other's work styles. Plus, when you’ve established honesty, trust, and respect, difficult conversations can actually strengthen your relationship and build a deeper understanding between you and your agency.
6. Celebrate the wins!
Providing critical feedback can be tough, so make sure to balance that out by remembering to celebrate the successes you see from your work together. After all, your agency’s success is your company’s success, and vice versa. A true partnership is strengthened when great clients and great partners acknowledge and recognize each other.
Empathy and Alignment Are Our Keys to Success
At the end of the day, you and your agency should want the same things: comprehensive solutions and measurable success. Alignment is the foundation of every solid partnership.
At Core, our partnerships are based on empathy. We strive to walk alongside our clients and fully understand the challenges and opportunities in their professional world. This means our version of a great relationship has a high level of collaboration and trust. We challenge our clients to think outside the box, and we expect our clients to challenge us to elevate their brand.
Learn more about working with Core to achieve your marketing goals.