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How You Should Be Evaluating Your Marketing Agency

marketers working at a table in front of a whiteboard

If there is one overarching theme I have learned in my time with Element Three, it is that the agency-client partnership works best when there is transparency on both sides. It’s the reason “transparency” is one of our company’s core values. The problem is that even with open communication and all the info in hand, many companies don’t know how to evaluate their agency.

I can’t blame them. Think about it. You’re a mid-size business owner wearing the overall strategy hat for your team, or you’re an enterprise-level Director of Marketing overseeing a team trying desperately to achieve your 2018 business goals. Who has time to dive deep into the productivity of their marketing partner? You chose that partner because you trust them to deliver results. And that monthly report they send seems to say results are being delivered.

The truth is, many agencies are skating by with minimal impact on areas which impact the business’s bottom line. Sure, they’ve increased traffic to your website. But does that even matter for your business? It was with this in mind that we got together and came up with three ways to evaluate your agency. Use it whenever—and if you’re one of our partners, use it on us. We’d love to know how we’re doing.

How complete is the client impact reporting?

Are you getting impact reporting? If not, start. The same way you’re producing reports for your executive team, you should be getting a report from your agency. They should be able to tell you exactly how they helped move your needle forward. Don’t accept less accountability than this. Now, there are times when agency actions cannot be directly correlated to increased revenues in the moment. But those instances should be discussed and understood, and there should be strategy behind them.

Assuming you’re receiving reports from your agency partner, how can you evaluate the report to make sure it’s actually telling you something and improving your business? Here are three areas of the report to assess:

Frequency of Reporting

There is no reason you shouldn’t have the option to see a report via a live dashboard at least once a week. At Element Three, we have technology that allows clients who opt in to be able to log in and see updated statistics any time throughout the month. This allows you and your agency to better spot trends in marketing efforts and results, meaning they can come prepared to give you recommendations on how to improve and capitalize on opportunities. It also allows an agency to pivot when needed—one of the biggest advantages in marketing, particularly in digital.

Analysis of the Report

Anyone can read a report—it’s understanding what the numbers tell you about your marketing that’s harder (and a lot more impactful). Paying for time just to have a digital marketer list off statistics is a waste of resources.

Instead, what may be helpful is to have them highlight three areas: Care, Do, and Impact. Why should you care, what can you do, and what will be the impact on the business? It is all well and good to know that your traffic from email went up by 20% this month, but what is the increase in traffic doing for you?

If your agency can come in and tell you your traffic from email went up because you added 2,000 contacts from a conference or trade show, and that those new contacts clicked through a specific piece of content that ultimately increased your MQL to SQL conversion rate, now you’re getting something valuable. You know: 1. The quality of contacts from the conference or trade show is good, and 2. The type of content that effectively and efficiently pushed leads to sales.

Measurable Data

Is the data you’re getting valuable and measurable? Going back to our last example, if you saw a simple increase in traffic this month of 20% but didn’t know the source, the metric is pretty much useless to you. Additionally, if you had a 20% increase in traffic but none of it generated additional leads or additional revenue, can you understand why? Was the quality of traffic bad? Did you send them to a confusing or irrelevant landing page? Is your website designed in a way that drives business results?

These are all things to consider, and should be discussed with your agency. It starts with understanding where your increase (or decrease) in performance is coming from. Is your organic search going down, or is it that your paid channels aren’t performing as well? From there, you can dig down farther to understand if a specific landing page or offer is being received better than another.

How strong is your relationship?

Work on the relationship as much as the work, especially at the beginning.

Our President, Tiffany Sauder, talks about this religiously with our partners. Especially at the beginning, it is of the utmost importance that your partner is working on knowing you better as a person, too. Yes, the relationship is driven by business. Yes, there is money being exchanged. However, how much better are those monthly reporting meetings when you can have a straight conversation and you are confident the person across the table actually knows what matters to you?

I’m not saying you need to be on their next invite list for the neighborhood cookout, but both sides should know more than just the other’s job title. There’s a person behind every seat at the table. Get to know them. If this feels uncomfortable with your agency, that may be a sign.

How available is your point of contact at the agency?

This is not a call to be blowing up your point of contact’s phone every Saturday morning and Sunday night.

That being said, when it is peak season for your business, and the results your agency partner produces directly affect your year, your point of contact should be available to you. Are you waiting 48-72 hours for an email response? Are you being treated like you’d expect a vendor to treat you? Or are you able to pick up the phone knowing you’re going to get a response from the person responsible for managing your account, who knows the ins and outs of your relationship, and can help you with whatever needs to be done?

Is your time spent with the agency increasing your knowledge and understanding of your marketing efforts?

When you go to the doctor, it’s because they’re an expert on medicine—they can provide better care than you can on your own because of their training and experience. You go to a marketing agency for the same reason. And in the same way your doctor is going to give you education you can utilize so you’re not constantly in their office, your marketing partner should be helping you learn the ropes.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ve hired the agency to be the expert, not to make you one. You don’t have time for that. What you DO have time for, though, is to be able to understand the strategy the agency is driving and to inform your partner on what your team is doing, and how the two fit together. It goes back to that rule of transparency. You and your partner should be working together to drive strategy and understand how to use marketing to get there. If the agency is just doing “magic” behind the curtain and you don’t know how they’re miraculously getting results, they could pull a fast one on you.

How strong is their own marketing and branding effort?

If the agency is working to grow YOUR business, shouldn’t they know how to grow their own?

We’ve been fortunate enough to be on the Inc. 5000 list for each of the past four years. This achievement is based in a ton of hard work from very smart people showing we know what we’re doing.

However, not every competent team is going to immediately be recognized with industry rewards. Just because your agency hasn’t been on a “fastest growing” list doesn’t make them a bad partner. So simply ask, are they growing at all? Have they brought on new talent, and have they been able to retain it?

At the end of the day, the agency is functioning as a business consultant. Their job is to grow your business—marketing is just the key tool to make that business growth happen. Make sure they know how to grow their business before taking their advice on how to grow yours.

Are they a vendor, or a partner?

A vendor knows how to follow instructions, a partner knows how to drive strategy and deliver results.

We’re BIG on this question at Element Three. And we’ll admit, there are situations in which a vendor relationship is your best option. Let’s say you need a new website, and you know EXACTLY what you need. You’ve done the research, you have the data. You know how the pages should be laid out. You know how customers need to interact with your site, and how to create the layout to make that happen. Congratulations, you know your stuff, and you can use a vendor who will fulfill your directions.

But I’m going to guess that for most people in the majority of areas this isn’t the case. Most of us don’t know why we’re having the problem we’re having, and in reality we’re paying to help figure out the answer to this question. A partner can do that. A vendor won’t. A partner is helping to drive strategy and make big business decisions; a vendor simply nods and says “okay.” Which one do you have?

All agencies aren’t created equal.

If your business is working with an agency that doesn’t meet these standards, that’s okay—in a way. It’s okay because you can expect better elsewhere. If you just pick a partner without a thought, it can be easy to end up in this situation, but if you really do the work and examine your options carefully, you’ll find that there are agencies out there that will meet and even exceed your wants and needs. Carefully evaluate your marketing partner and if they don’t meet these standards, it might be time for a change.

Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career–from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”