Nobody likes wasting their money. Even moreso, no one likes wasting someone else’s money when they are accountable for it. That’s never a fun conversation. From not understanding an agency’s billing methods, to failing to fully communicate about a project’s challenges, end goals, or scope. There are a number of ways that it can feel like you just are not getting the return-on-investment for your marketing budget that you thought you would. But there are some things you can do, and questions you should ask, to ensure your marketing dollars are being spent as wisely as possible.
Here we offer 3 things to keep in mind to help you maximize your marketing agency investment and help you to minimize a possible rocky beginning to your new professional partnership.
1. Understand your agency’s billing options
Your agency most likely has some options and variables that go into their billing structure with you. Almost all agencies use an hourly structure to determine your investment, even if the project is being billed as a “flat fee.” Flat fee project billing is great for those projects that have clearly defined begin and end points and a well-established scope. When your agency is being utilized more like a marketing department, with on-going projects and shifting goals or strategies, then a retainer is almost always the most optimal fee structure for both them and you. A retainer offers flexibility in where you spend your dollars, which is great if you’re not sure of everything you will need up front.
Sometimes hourly billing can get a bad rep. We’ve all heard stories of lawyer’s offices sending surprise bills for hundreds for just a 15-minute phone call. A good client representative doesn’t want to charge you meaningless hours to drive the cost up of a project or projects. A great agency rep thinks long-term and understands that the more impact we can have with your marketing dollars, the better it is for our long term relationship with that client. A good agency charges for work performed, not for the 15 minute phone call to discuss the work that needs to be performed.
Efficiency and clear communication is the name of the game with agency retainers. If a project fee came out higher at the end than expected then be sure to ask your client rep how to keep costs down on the next one. Beware of sending your agency busy work that takes more time than skill, like transcribing handwritten notes or sorting through thousands of images in your photo library. The better organized you are before you assign a project to your agency the more likely you are to shave off billable hours in the end. Having a single point of contact on your end will also ensure that priorities are being firmly established, as well as making sure that Jack from Sales isn’t sending in requests that impede the overall strategy and add unnecessary dollars to your retainer budget.
2. Be brutally honest about your company’s challenges
So after careful consideration and a couple of introductory meetings you have chosen a new creative agency. The discovery is scheduled and you’re ready to tell them exactly what you want and what your goals are. But what if what you want isn’t what you actually need to meet those goals? Or perhaps what you want is only step 3 of what should actually be a 4 part strategy? While a proposal meeting with your new agency may have successfully outlined an initial scope of work based on a strategy developed with only cursory knowledge, an honest and open discovery may uncover more root issues than you or your agency was aware of.
Granted, if you have hired an agency with a straightforward project to be performed, a basic website perhaps, then the conversation may be more simple. However if you are looking to build a relationship in the future with them, then starting on the right foot is imperative. And it will make you more money in the end.
Your discovery is the time to cut right to the heart of your obstacles. Was a product launch a total failure? Are customers not finding or connecting with your company, service, or product? Is the state of the world affecting your bottom line and you aren’t sure how to stay relevant? Did a campaign message you thought would be received well was met with indifference or even anger with your customers instead? Don’t sugarcoat it. Now is the time for honesty and action.
If you underplay the urgency or weight of an issue, or if you don’t admit that there’s a variable you don’t quite understand in the equation, then months could be wasted not addressing foundational concerns. The key is collaboration. Draw as much from your own deep inner knowledge of your business and industry as you do from your agency’s experience in out-of-the-box solutions, current trends and technology, and problem solving capabilities in a wide variety of industries. From this the most effective strategy can be developed, and it may not necessarily start where you originally thought it would.
3. Be proactive not reactive
Now that we’ve told you to be brutally honest with your agency about your business’ challenges, it is imperative to note that putting a marketing plan into action is not like flipping a switch. Yes, sometimes hiring a marketing agency to put out a fire is necessary. However, developing solutions that work in the long-term takes time, research, and occasionally a little trial and error. But will in the end make you more money.
Understanding root issues and causes can really only be achieved by fostering longer term relationships with your agency. Certain problems can only be truly understood by tossing your agency in the deep end and letting them swim in your pool. But no one learns to swim laps overnight. Is your customer base aging and not being replenished by younger consumers? Do you hit the same slow periods every year that put a strain on cash flow? Are you losing touch with who your customers are and what they use your product or service for? Getting a marketing agency to audit your suspicions and look at your brand with fresh eyes can be very impactful. Work with your agency as much like they are a strategic consultant as they are a developer and implementer of creative solutions, and you are almost guaranteed to have more profitable results.
Frequently companies get in the cycle of utilizing marketing when sales are good and cutting the supply off when they’re down. This budget-based reactionary decision making can create a destabilizing cycle of really high highs and super low lows. It can be difficult to see straight or get that knot out of your stomach when the rollercoaster never ends. Work with your agency to find flexibility in your strategy to better throttle your ad spending instead of just hitting the brakes or putting the pedal to the metal. By being proactive and keeping your agency working on the problems of today and tomorrow you will surely find yourself on more stable ground.
By Daniel Rizer
Outline by Raichel Jenkins