Why You Need a Marketing Partner, Not a Vendor

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    May 31, 2017

Why You Need a Marketing Partner, Not a Vendor


Before I became an agency guy, I spent 25 years on the client side of the fence. I helped guide brands in industries from paint to pizza through innovative marketing programs, rebranding efforts and product launches. I couldn’t have done it alone; that’s why, after all those years as a client, I understand the value of a strong marketing partner.

Even the best all-around athlete can’t win without great teammates. LeBron James is one of history’s best basketball players, but he couldn’t have hoisted the first NBA championship trophy for his hometown team without Kyrie Irving dribbling through crowds or Kevin Love dropping dimes from the wing. And like those Cleveland Cavaliers, brand marketers need partners committed to playing through the last whistle.

An agency partner is focused on winning the season, not just a game. A true partner is equally invested in the short-term and long-term success of your brand. Partners deliver work built on strategic thinking and a deep understanding of your business. They take an objective view yet feel the thrill of every win and the ache of every struggle like they’re part of your team. 

On the other hand, a marketing vendor is transactional. When you hire a vendor for a specific project, you might get good creative and even enjoy short-term results. But if you depend mostly on vendors, you won’t consistently receive the level of work you’d get from a partner who’s had a seat at your conference room table long enough to understand the why behind your request.

To position your brand for success, approach your client – agency relationships with these things in mind:

1.    Consider whether a single agency or multiple agencies will be best for your business.

Plenty of brands hire multiple agencies, charging each of them to tackle specialized needs. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this strategy; in fact, I sometimes took this approach during my time on the client side. After all, specialized agencies tend to bring excellent subject matter expertise to the table. They have deep knowledge and solid footing on the cutting edge within their respective disciplines. And many marketers who opt for a multipronged approach enjoy the benefits of diverse thoughts and philosophies and skills. 

If you plan to hire more than one agency, make sure you understand what each brings to the table, clearly outline expectations, and eliminate communication barriers before they materialize.

But having a big team can be hard work.

The biggest problem with juggling an armful of agencies is that sometimes, it can start to feel a little like, well, juggling. When you hire multiple agencies, you are responsible for making sure the efforts of those agencies are connected and help rather than hinder your marketing goals. You have to ensure continuity of workflow and messaging. When you have more balls in the air, you also have to work harder to avoid the execution mode trap. You might even have to play referee. And all of these extra responsibilities can quickly become burdensome and time-consuming.

 2.    If you’re in the market for a full-service agency, do your homework.

As a marketer evaluating potential full-service agency partners, you have to do your due diligence. Pay special attention to whether the agency has enough depth across services to help you achieve your goals. Meet with representatives of each discipline; don’t rely on your client services contact to stand in for those teams or manage your relationship with them. In order to truly understand the agency’s capability to deliver against your unique needs, you have to have an open, direct line of communication with the teams that will deliver the work.

 3.    A true partner will elevate your game.

True agency partners have the ability to shuttle from one-off projects to branding campaigns. They engage in proactive brainstorming rather than waiting for you to signal the next move. They don’t just hear about your marketing goals, they help you develop them.

As the client, you gain an exponential amount of resources. A complete toolset handpicked to align with your business goals. A sounding board for questions or dilemmas. Each day, you have the support of a full team thinking about your business almost as much as you do.

A true marketing partner is willing to invest time and resources that might not be affordable if acquired piecemeal, from a handful of agencies. They spend your marketing dollars in an efficient way, because they can plan and budget with a clear view of the total picture and coordinate messaging across channels. And a true partner is willing to stretch to help you achieve your stretch goals.

 4.    Building a successful partnership takes the best of both sides.

Scant information or an incomplete picture can limit even the best shops. As the client, you have to be as open as possible. That means sharing results and financials and new market information as well as any pressures you’re facing. Confidential information should never be shared publicly, of course, but this kind of background can help your agency partner shape and craft strategies and messaging, because it gives them a deeper understanding of your business and prospects.

Great minds sometimes think alike, but great minds always work better together. Give your agency team space to develop independent ideas and solutions. Be open to new thinking and unique approaches to tackling old roadblocks or capitalizing on new opportunities.

Similarly, agencies have to be good listeners. They must staff the brand team with people who are capable of managing at a partner level. It’s critical they understand the client’s external landscape and internal assets, differentiators and marketing goals. Agency partners must commit to becoming experts on their clients’ business. They have to understand that education never ends, whether new people join the team, different projects take precedence, or external factors change. Finally, the best agency partners make the client’s priorities their priorities.

Full-service agencies aren’t right for everyone. They may not be right for your brand. But when you approach an agency as a partner, not a service provider, you’ll achieve better, more long-lasting results.

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