Working effectively with digital agencies

I’ve just completed a series of presentations to about 250 SMEs across the East Midlands on how to select, and build a good working relationship with, digital agencies, whether they build and design websites, enhance SEO and PPC, run an email marketing campaign, or advise on ecommerce or social media.  Digital is a particularly tricky discipline as most business owners have limited knowledge and can feel at a disadvantage. I’ve had plenty of feedback from my audiences both on common pitfalls and secrets of success.  Whilst this is primarily based on the experiences of smaller businesses, I believe many of these five key principles apply equally to larger client-agency relationships.

1. Matching

Whilst recommendations are a great way to feel confident about your agency selection, my view is that you need to work with an agency that understands businesses like yours, ideally of a similar size, targeting similar markets and with equivalent levels of web sophistication.  Further, it is a good idea to select an agency from your own business community, as there is a greater vested interest in providing a good level of service and gaining recommendations.  Finally, however tempting the overseas or remote options are, I think that when things get rocky, as they will do in any long-term relationship, you need to be able to get face to face with your agency within 2 hours travel time.

2. Integration

You may find a full service agency who can meet all your needs.  However, few individuals can be brilliant at development, design, SEO, PPC, marketing and social media.  So you may need to bring in specialists from different agencies.  This can be fraught with difficulty – tasks fall between the cracks and communication can be poor.  Best practice is for the client to treat the disparate agencies as a team, and brief them together, face to face, to get clarity on how their roles fit together.

3. Expectations

Before you even engage your agency, be clear about your business objectives.  Take the time to give them a written brief, and explain how you see their role in delivering your objectives.  Understand how they propose to meet your needs, and also what you have to contribute to deliver.  Many web builds and digital marketing projects fall behind when the client delivers content behind schedule.  For bigger projects, consider a dedicated project manager with the authority to progress chase.

4. Portability

Consider your exit route upfront.  However much you love your agency now, you may fall out with them, or circumstances may force a change of agency.  Ensure that you control all intellectual property: designs, domains, coding, data, and also that all activity is thoroughly documented so that it could be passed on to a new agency or developer.  Check that the termination clause is as you would wish before you sign on the dotted line…

5. Learning

Agencies are a great opportunity for you and your staff to learn new skills.  Consider seconding some of your own team to the agency during your project; they will be better equipped to maintain the site and marketing campaign in future.  This will also save you money in the long term as you can run more activity in-house.  Network with your agency’s other clients; if you have chosen wisely (see point#1) they will be an invaluable source of new insights.

Good luck, and I wish you well with your agency selection and success in your digital projects.  I’d be interested to hear of any tips or stories of success.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, helps create practical digital media and marketing strategies. If you’d like some advice on how you can get the best value from digital agencies and developers, please contact us for a no-obligation discussion.