In days long past, companies hired one marketing firm, usually an advertising agency, to coordinate a broad spectrum of marketing needs. Today, modern marketing channels have become so fragmented that B2B marketers are much more likely to work with a stable of agencies – a demand generation agency, for example, plus a branding firm, a PR shop, perhaps even an SEO consultant. It’s also very likely that each of those same firms will focus on a particular industry: say, healthcare or high-tech. The era of agency specialization is well and truly upon us.
One byproduct of agency specialization is a loss of geographic proximity. Unless you happen to be located in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco, it’s unlikely that you’ll find an entire stable of specialist firms with the precise skills and industry experience you need, all in your immediate neighborhood.
At our agency, fully 60 percent of our client base falls outside of our immediate geography (we happen to be headquartered in Silicon Valley.) Because we’re highly specialized, it’s not uncommon for us to be hired sight unseen or even work with clients for months before we actually meet face to face. Along the way, we’ve developed some best practices for how to make that long distance relationship work best.
If you’re about to hire an agency from across the country, or if you already work with one, here are some tips for getting the most from the partnership:
1. Schedule regular (preferably weekly) “touch base” conference calls, regardless of how often you communicate otherwise by phone or email during the week. Ask your agency to maintain a record of project status and “next steps” (perhaps using a file sharing platform like Dropbox or Google Drive) so everyone is on the same page, and so you can access project updates even if your agency has already gone home for the day.
2. One of the primary added values of working with a third-party agency is that they bring a fresh perspective to your ongoing marketing initiatives. Involve your agency early in the planning process so they can contribute ideas and prevent your marketing strategy from becoming too insular (as in: “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”) Annual planning meetings are some of the best opportunities to have the agency fly out and meet face-to-face. (Or save travel expense by scheduling the planning meeting for when you and your team will be at a trade show near the agency’s office.)
3. Over time, and left untended, agency relationships can often become “reactive” – that is, the agency is simply acting on orders, rather than bringing original ideas to the table. The best way to combat this is to have your agency be a true partner, an extension of your marketing team, and privy to discussions about business goals, product plans, initiatives happening elsewhere in the company, etc. The more your agency knows, the more they can contribute fresh thinking.
4. Introduce partner agencies to one another. Sure, it’s likely there may be some overlap (and therefore, turf battles) along the way, but more often the skill sets of specialist agencies will be complementary. Knowing what other support or resources you have at your disposal, and what programs/initiatives/campaigns those other agencies are planning, can encourage cross-pollination of ideas and ensure your overall marketing strategy is more integrated (and therefore, successful.)
5. Make generous use of screen share tools (we use Fuzebox and Join.me) and video conferencing products like Skype or Google Hangouts. Join.me, for example, can be launched in seconds, and is a great tool for impromptu discussions of campaign proposals, design comps, wireframes, etc.
6. Be up front about the way you like to work. Are you someone who likes regular check-ins or is your work-style more freeform? Do you prefer people to reach you by phone or are you more the asynchronous type and use email exclusively if possible?
7. Be up front about internal pressures or deadlines you may be facing, or other competing demands (for example, a product launch or a new hire) that may delay your response on a key deliverable. The more your agency knows, the more likely they can be flexible to your situation.
8. The best agency/client relationship is a partnership. (Hint: agencies hate the word “vendor”.) The right agency wants to make you look good. Trust them.
What else have you learned working with an agency, remote or otherwise? What tips would you give to someone considering hiring an agency they may only see every few months? Comments welcome.
Thanks to the Spear Marketing Group account team for their contributions to this post.