History of blame
Throughout my career, one of the first conversations I have with almost every new client is; “We worked with an agency before and they didn’t deliver.”. A client has had a negative experience that has tainted their view of marketing, caused them to distrust suppliers or outright decry an entire channel as a pointless exercise.
There are, of course, agencies that don’t deliver on their promises. Businesses that make outrageous claims that ultimately they cannot deliver in order to win a new piece of business. Speaking as someone who has been client and agency side (and now sits firmly in the middle) in truth there is often blame on both sides. Agencies for not asking the right questions and clients for not knowing the answers.
Mistake One: Brief the output but measure success on results
The first mistake businesses make is skipping the brief entirely. They have a view of the thing they want, be it a website, a social campaign or content marketing and they just want to get it done. The focus is on the output, the thing that needs to be produced rather than the purpose of the thing itself. The goal isn’t a new website, it’s to improve brand perception or increase conversion. The purpose isn’t to send out some tweets, the purpose of those tweets is to engage an audience, gain sign ups or sell products.
To avoid this issue, it’s vital that both parties understand the goal of the campaign or activity. A written brief is vital (it can be written by the client or the agency) but it must exist and detail what the intended outcome is. If there is any doubt in the ‘why’ of the project, then a step back needs to be taken in order to understand the purpose properly before moving forward.
Mistake Two: Letting the output pick the partner
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you go to a web agency, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that the solution to your problem is going to be a new website. To a social media agency, it’s likely to be a social campaign. In reality they may both be viable solutions, but in not thinking strategically and instead trying to tick marketing boxes, it’s easy to be driven down the wrong path.
That’s not to say that a full service agency is better than a dedicated one, indeed there are pros and cons of both but a truly great agency will be honest enough to tell you when their services are not right for you. We have on many occasions turned down work because we didn’t feel like the right fit for that business or our services wouldn’t supply them with the solution they needed. Nine times out of ten, this has resulted in a referral or a future piece of work that was a better fit for that client. Honesty is valued above all else.
Mistake Three: Skipping the Strategy
Strategy sits behind every project, sometimes it feels like an obstacle or something that’s getting in the way, but time spent on strategy is an investment in the quality of the output. This is probably the mistake that causes the most damage and is the reason most campaigns fail. If there isn’t a properly thought through marketing strategy in place you won’t know where you’re trying to get to, you won’t know who you should be speaking to and you won’t know what you should be saying.
A great marketing strategy will ultimately save you a huge amount of time. Any client that comes to an agency or freelancer with a marketing strategy in place, knows who their ideal customer is and understands the tone and style best suited to engaging them will be greeted with open arms. It ensures the campaign or tactic is designed completely in service of the goals of your business.
We always encourage the strategy to be something that is created by the business, possibly with the support of an external organisation or individual that is completely independent. The advantage of engaging someone with no motivation other than to serve the business is that you don’t end up with a strategy that is designed to create work for the agency.
Mistake Four: Focussing on Value not Values
There are many factors that you may use in selecting an agency to work with; recommendation, quality of work, expertise and of course, price. However, we would always encourage you to look closely at the values of the business. How well do they align with yours? Ultimately you’re looking for a partner on your project, not a service delivered by the lowest bidder.
Avoiding the blame game
It is sometimes too easy to blame an agency or freelancer for a poor performing campaign, and whilst there are certainly organisations out there that don’t deliver on their promises, we believe that by following these four guidelines, you are massively increasing your chances of delivering a great campaign.
That said, there will always be times when the campaign doesn’t work out - however when you are working alongside a partner, rather than a ‘supplier’, you’ll always find something to learn from, develop, adjust and ultimately move you closer to your ultimate goal.