Building an Agency Partnership: Part 1

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When most young companies begin the daunting task of starting the search for an agency partner to assist with their marketing efforts, they often do not know where to start or how to go about looking.

There a lot of options out there, and it can be extremely tough to understand how best to identify who could be a good fit and how to evaluate your options. There are a few criteria that can help to approach this process and determine who you want to work with.

  1. Before you start your search, how will you know when the time is right? Here are some quick and easy ways to know when to start looking:

Pressure - Time and money are both valuable, especially when you are a new company, so you want to be sure that you are coming to a partner at the right time. If you feel that you do not have the resources, knowledge or ability to continue your marketing efforts then it is probably time to look for help. If you do not value the service and expertise that you are getting from an agency, it is going to be difficult to find success. Pressure is going to help to define how much you want, need and value that service.

Stretched too thin - When you start out, you are trying to do a million things at once. At some point, the quality of your effort is going to be compromised if you do everything yourself. You can’t give everything 100% of your attention, and putting something out that is half-baked or not thorough can do damage. Building customers and brand recognition is key and you do not want to put that in jeopardy.

Competitors at a clear advantage - If you are too focused on making the perfect product but nobody knows about it or where to find it, then your product is no good to anybody. Chances are that you will have competition that isn’t going to sit back and hope that everybody is going to magically find their product and that they can happily coexist with your company. Expect the market to be cutthroat, especially when you are just getting started and your competition is hungry. You have to push yourself to make sure you aren’t losing your audience or ignoring them altogether. Marketing doesn’t just happen: It has to be deliberate. If you want to stay ahead of the competition, you have to give it serious attention.

Are you prepared to dive in? - Know what it means to work with an agency. As a company, you have to appreciate that you are engaging a team that provides marketing solutions, and you should be looking to establish a relationship of trust and collaboration. You can't expect to just tell someone what to do; instead relay what you want to accomplish and balance expertise on both sides of the table. It takes work on your end—don’t just hand them a brief and tell them to make it happen. You have to be active in your engagement. An agency partner can’t pull something out of thin air without participation on the client side; nobody likes to constantly take orders and just do what you tell them. Both you and your agency should feel like they are tapping into each other and providing a solution that is a win-win.

How much are you paying per opportunity? - Analytics are key and you should be measuring data to optimize your business. You have to figure out how much you want to spend to acquire new customers and what that means for your budget and your time. An agency can help to optimize your sales process and bring this cost down. Simple things like clearly communicating your offerings and capabilities can weed out a lot of people who are looking for something that you do not offer and allow you to focus on high quality leads.

  1. One of the biggest questions most companies have is how much an agency costs. There is no simple answer to this question because there are a number of critical factors that will help to determine what your budget should look like. No two businesses are exactly the same, and everyone has their unique constraints. A good agency should not have a one-size-fits-all-approach, so below are some tips to help navigate the issue of budget:

A Good Agency is Good Investment - Price tag isn’t the only factor; value should be taken into account as well. Like most industries, what you spend is relative to what you get.Yet the quality of the work and what that means for your business is critical. One option might be double the cost of others, but if that brings in revenue that is four times what anyone else can deliver then it needs to be considered.

Don’t Stretch Your Budget Too Thin - It is important to allocate an amount that isn’t going to cause you to micromanage or feel that you are stretched too thin financially. You should feel comfortable spending what you have set aside, not just give a number that is more than you can spend and hope that it comes in lower. You need to have a safety net so that you aren’t on the edge of your seat the entire time and praying that it isn’t a penny more.

Dealing with this before you start your search will save both you and any potential candidates time and effort. Don’t interview 20 firms then decide that you only have a certain amount to spend; figure it out then interview the five that meet that criteria. This is going to be a critical factor in your process and most agencies are going to ask what you are looking to spend during the sales process.

Constraints Inspire Creativity - Being upfront about your budget will help to guide the solutions that agencies suggest. Part of this is coming to potential partners with a set of problems that you want to solve and a budget, rather than a list of solutions and the idea that it will cost what it will cost. This goes back to the idea that there should be no one-size-fits-all approaches: You can be creative and find ways to be effective and efficient with your time and materials. The approach that an agency takes for a huge national brand with a large budget is going to be different than what they would do for a small startup working out of someone’s garage. Knowing that a client has a certain amount of resources will dictate the approach and deliverables. Agencies can’t just make something cost less, but they can find ways to get you most of the way there by approaching things a certain way.

Some Agencies Are Just More Expensive - Although the approaches that an agency offers may vary, their hourly rates are probably not going to change. There may be some wiggle room, but usually it is what it is. More experienced, proven and successful agencies tend to charge more because the value of working with that team may be higher than someone without a proven track record. You probably aren’t going to be able to get an agency to price match or undercut their competition since their rates are based on their expertise and quality. Only you can truly decide whether it is worth it or not. You should expect to see some variation in price based on quality of work.