Managing an advertising agency is complex. The landscape is constantly changing. Marketing leaders must consider how agencies are keeping pace with evolving strategies.
Why is this a problem? A significant portion of a marketing budget is spent with agencies. Yet, often these agencies do not contribute to your revenue growth. This is the result of poor agency management. Be sure to hold every agency accountable to a business objective and a set of key performance indicators and multiply the capabilities of your team.
Engaging with an advertising agency is one of the most expensive marketing investments. As the marketing leader, your team must proactively ensure that the marketing strategy, programs, projects, tactics, and especially marketing budgets stay on track. I’ve had several marketing leaders tell me that the Agency Management section of this year’s workbook (see pages 206 – 209) helped them to get their arms around the agency relationship.
Tight collaboration with agency partners is also tricky when juggling multiple partners. Are all of the teams on the same page and do they have context of the full marketing strategy or just their piece?
Here are five ways to evaluate and improve how you manage your advertising agency.
1. Year-Over-Year Marketing Objectives:
Are you working with the right advertising agency? Needs change over time. Projects change over time. Your solutions change over time.
A different mix of agency partners may be needed to support your initiatives. One of the reasons to outsource to an agency is to have the flexibility to shift to the specific skill-sets you need, as you need them. Don’t make the mistake of beginning your strategy planning with the agency because it will be a self-fulling need for their services. Begin with a formal planning approach that is built on the corporate objectives from the CEO. When you know the overall objectives, and the markets, buyers and accounts to go after, then you can start to identify your go-t0-market strategy. From there you evaluate the advertising agency against what you’re discovering to be priorities for the year.
Conduct an audit or gap analysis. Focus on the key priorities for the agency, in order to support your marketing objectives.
2. Marketing Strategy Definition:
Are you getting the right recommendations? Boilerplate campaigns and buzz-driven word concepts with little differentiation don’t work. When campaign initiatives are just thrown in, loading up the campaign calendar, it exposes a weak marketing strategy.
Not enough time is being spent collaborating with your agency partners. With the right agency partner, you need to invest in them. Provide the agency with solid direction on how your product/service is differentiated from the competition and how you win against the competition. This should not only include how your company beats competitive brands, but also the competitors of ‘Do Nothing’ and ‘Do it Yourself’ that typically represent more losses than a competitive company. Have regular working sessions to evaluate company direction, needs, and gaps.
Challenge your agency to align their efforts to a strategy that is specific, actionable, and measurable – to your organization. Don’t accept the template approach. Customize the marketing campaigns to what you demand.
3. Cross-Team Collaboration:
Are you treating your agency partners like outsiders? Don’t let marketing initiatives just pop up without a tie-back to higher-level strategies.
Your agency partners must be able to collaborate, work with you, or integrate with other agency partners. The goal is to foster effective internal and external teams across all of your projects.
Stay close to the agency by developing 1:1 relationships with agency management. Find the most senior person who is close to your business. Depending on the size of the agency and the level of spend from your company, this may not be a partner or owner of the agency. Build your relationship with the agency leader who is leading the internal team at the agency. This is where you will duplicate yourself by seeing that your vision for the brand is guiding the agency.
Collaboration across agency partners is required when working with multiple agencies. Experiment with how they might push innovative ideas, but have tight controls over when and how projects tie back to the budget. At different times of the year, let agencies pitch new ideas. Creating a challenge budget for new ideas will help cross-pollinate your team with the newest trends.
4. The Creative Brief Drives Execution.
Are you working on strategic objectives or niche tactics? Ensure that all projects include a detailed project creative brief. It helps manage your advertising agency by documenting project scope, the objectives, audience, points of differentiation the resource needs, and all deliverables. In essence a creative brief tells you four key things:
- Who are we targeting?
- What do they believe today?
- What do we want them to believe?
- What’s in it for them?
- Why should they believe it?
For a creative brief to be effective, you should allow agencies to contribute to strategic planning when and allow for iteration.
At times, there is no sales involvement or buy-in from the products team. It’s possible that not even the CEO or CFO know exactly what is underway. A creative brief is an effective tool to gain input from others in the organization.
5. Marketing Budget Management.
Are your statements of work (SOWs) clearly defined and controlled? Issues with defining lines between strategic consulting, fixed-cost projects, or time and material resource costs can get blurred. Budgets bleed together.
A focus on return on investment (ROI) with accurate measurement can be lost in the busy-work. You likely find it hard to track exactly where the marketing budget is going unless you have a dialogue with the agency on how to bill for their services. Too granular and it’s a nightmare to manage, too high level and you lose visibility and ability to report.
Expect accurate reporting with communication of potential budget overages. Create a culture of fairness where cost overrun issues are dealt with at the time they occur. Agencies can’t pass through cost overruns without prior permission. This can lead to work stoppages, which is good. It helps drive the conversations about a cost overrun in a timely manner to resolve and the right decision can be made by both parties. Let a cost overrun wait until an invoice is generated and things start to stink.
It’s really about setting up a culture of fairness across all integrated advertising agency partners. Let it be known, though, that cost overruns and unexpected expenses are not acceptable.
Managing the Marketing Advertising Agency – Staying On Track
It’s about how you effectively drive execution with detailed planning.
You can drive focus by getting the right agency partners to work with you collaboratively. Tight communications enable you to know you’re getting the results.
Marketing budget controls align strategy with budget for a clear return on investment, for all of your marketing initiatives. As a guide to go deeper, download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017 and turn to the Agency Management phase on pages 206 to 209 of the PDF workbook. Answer the questions to assess your effectiveness of managing your agency partner.