A Guide to Working with a Creative Marketing Agency.

Picture this—you’ve recently hired a creative marketing agency.

But not just any agency. After months of searching, you’ve found theagency to serve as your strategic partner and help guide your company to new levels of success. They come highly recommended and their portfolio showcases thoughtful, compelling work that yielded results. Suddenly, all is right in the world and you look like the genius you are.

After the kickoff, the agency gets to work crafting what you know will be top-notch creative. Expectations are high for the first presentation…

And then it’s a dud.

It’s not even close to what you were expecting. And as you try to define the root of the problem, you start asking yourself questions like, was my brief not clear enough?

The reality is that this isn’t an uncommon experience—especially for those who don’t work with creative marketing agencies regularly. Getting the best from your agency partner is a collaborative, iterative process that gets easier and faster over time. To help you avoid some common pitfalls (and get the results you want), we’ve compiled a few easy tips for working with an agency.

Know what you’re asking for, and why.

Agencies exist for a singular purpose: to solve specific problems their clients are facing. The first step in developing a successful relationship with your agency is to thoroughly communicate the pain point you’re hoping to address—and the business objectives you’re trying to reach. Often, companies haven’t identified their core challenges, or their goals are too vague. But if your agency isn’t clear on where to focus their efforts, how can they design an effective solution?

By being specific in your requests, your agency can help assess if the deliverables you’re asking for will actually yield the results you’re after. You can help them even more by providing the necessary resources to inform their work, like a brand book, previous creative, or insights into your audience. This can go a long way in making sure your agency understands your brand and gets the internal vocabulary of your company.

help them even more by providing the necessary resources to inform their work

Make success measurable.

While developing a solution requires a clear understanding of the problem, it also requires defining what success means. It’s immensely helpful to your agency if you create an environment where outcomes can be measured. Let your agency know how many new leads or conversions or impressions you’re shooting for. Provide benchmarks and key learnings from previous efforts, and establish how you’ll track goals to ensure you’re all on the same page.

Meet in person.

What’s one word that should always be top of mind when working with an agency? Communication. Since the majority of client-agency disconnect stems from miscommunication, conducting kickoff meetings live instead of over the phone or in an email is the best way to set the tone for a project. A point that might be opaque in an email can come across crystal clear when you’re meeting face-to-face, especially if you’re fluent in body language. Despite all of our technological advances, there’s no substitute for an in-person meeting. After all, it’s not just what you say that matters—it’s how you say it.

there’s no substitute for an in-person meeting.

Give descriptive, direct feedback.

Communication also extends into the type of feedback you provide. Marketing managers tend to provide prescriptive feedback (i.e., do this, not that) instead of descriptive feedback that explains why things do or don’t work. Be sure to always dig deep: try to find the why behind your feedback, and be direct in how you communicate. By avoiding vague generalities like “this needs to pop more” and including positive feedback in addition to negative, you’ll create an environment of constructive criticism. And because you’ve already established your brand, key problems, and success metrics, you’ll have a common language to use in assessing the work.

Keep going.

It’s easy to think that since your creative marketing agency has yielded exceptional results for a variety of clients that they can step in and thrive on day one without much direction. But always keep in mind that in order to create effective work, your agency relationship must be treated as a partnership, not a consultancy. And like all partnerships, those that are successful are built upon a foundation of ongoing effort, diligence, and communication from both parties.

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