Shifting Sands: 6 Keys To Choosing an Agency in the New Age of Brand Communications

Agency new business is won through a combination of great ideas (often “The Great Idea”), a competitive price and remuneration offering, personal chemistry between senior management on both sides of the table and an outstanding and compelling strategic approach.

It’s no secret that most frequently business is lost due to poor client service and a breakdown of relations between client and agency. Clients never fire agencies: people do!

There are a number of clichés around client service and agency performance that are repeated over and over again at new business pitches and that bore both clients and agencies to tears (so I won’t repeat them again  here!).

But are there any tangible things that make a significant difference in both service and performance that clients should take into account when choosing a digital brand communications agency?

Here are six that I have identified:

1. Knowledge of the local market

Many brands are hoping to successfully engage with their consumers and potential consumers with a blanket effect approach by doing digital marketing on a global scale. This simply doesn’t work as brands still mean and will continue to mean different things to different people.

For example, a car that is perceived as being a midrange vehicle in one market may be perceived as a luxury vehicle in another. The use of certain colours in your on-line activity will also be important as to how your brand is perceived in different markets around the world. There are many cultural quirks that need to be taken into account when trying to influence your audience.

Global interconnection does not mean that local markets are sucked in to a “worldwide on-line culture” but rather they take those foreign values which are relevant to them and incorporate them into their local on-line culture. This effect is known as “glocalization”, a term made popular by sociologist Roland Robertson.

In order to target your customers in markets with a different set of values from that of your home market, you need an agency that can provide culture-specific digital marketing engagement.

2. Big is not beautiful

In fact the reverse may well be true. Think about it. Do you want to be paying for hundreds of people who are not actually working on your business or do you want a small, dedicated team of experienced professionals thinking about what they can do for your brand 24/7?

I know this is the time-worn argument that has been going on forever about whether it’s better to have a larger or a smaller agency. In the digital age this consideration is even more important because brands are not just broadcasting any more, they need to engage with their customers.

Think carefully about exactly what kind of service and engagement you will get from a smaller shop compared to the digital department of a larger agency.

3. A consultative approach

Many clients are approaching digital agencies in the hope that the agency will give them all the answers and set up “a nice social media and digital solutions package” for them that they can put into place and will then work like clockwork.

Unfortunately that’s what some agencies are selling to brands. However this approach won’t take you very far because brands are like people and the answers to the questions are within the brand and the brand owners themselves.

We need you to tell us who you really want to be and what it is you really want to achieve in both the short and the long term with your brand.

Then we can come back with realistic approaches that can match and hopefully surpass your expectations.

4. An Agency that understands business, not just digital

If you want the highest quality of service, look for an agency where within the senior management there is a mix of serial entrepreneurs, people who have been senior managers at large media agencies and have some real life business experience outside the digital marketing space, hopefully in a category related to your brand.

The response you will get will be more focused on getting real business results, meeting your schedules and achieving outstanding ROI for your brand investments.

5. Forget Full Service

Ask your agency if it can deliver in areas that are clearly outside their areas of experience and expertise. If they tell you they can do that too (for a price), look for another agency.

A good agency will tell you what they can and can’t do and may offer to introduce you to someone they know that can give you the other services you need, but will never offer to take on work outside their core competences.

6. Do they Practice What They Preach?

If I was a client this would be my main concern. It’s imperative that you hire an agency whose senior management are personally active on the main social media platforms and are respected thought leaders in the digital space.

Digital brand communications is a discipline which evolves at the speed of a click. Unless the people working on your account are permanently involved and engaged in what’s going on within the social media landscape, it’s impossible for them to know and understand where the opportunities are for your brand. At the end of the day it’s a question of practising what you preach.

Look for an agency with at least a couple of people who produce content about industry issues, curate other people’s content, share and comment on other people’s content and are open and have a strong personal brand both on and offline.

Would you hire a driver who doesn’t like driving or fly with a pilot who wasn’t passionate about flying?

Over to you…

What other key factors would you take into account when choosing your digital marketing agency? I would be interested to hear what you have to say.

This post was originally published at B2Community

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Simon is Global Client Services Director at Sandstorm Digital. He worked at Grey Advertising, Young & Rubicam and was CEO of two media agencies before starting out on a successful career as an international Integrated Marketing Communications Consultant working with Advertising and Media Agencies on New Business pitches and Client Service assignments, prior to joining Sandstorm. He has over 20 years experience on Airlines, Entertainment, FMCG, Luxury Goods and Personal Care accounts. His mantra: "People are the key factor in customer engagement, brand image and corporate reputation". For more from Simon, follow him on Twitter and add him to one of your Google Plus Circles.

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