Contributor Laura Scott recaps a session from SMX West that focused on how to strengthen the relationship between agencies and brands.
Brands and agencies: a dynamic duo since the beginning of marketing time. We’ve all had good relationships, bad relationships and good relationships gone bad. What makes some brand/agency partnerships so successful, while others fail? This SMX West session explored the payoff of successful partnerships and how to take those partnerships to the next level.
Dating tips to maximize the brand-agency relationship
In a joint presentation, Sharon Conner (search marketing strategist at Autodesk) and Chad Gingrich (senior SEO manager at Seer Interactive) compared the brand/agency partnership to dating. They reviewed past relationships, pointing out that the ones that didn’t work just couldn’t show value over time. They also acknowledged that it’s easy to blame the other party for failing to implement or failing to show value but recommended that partners figure out what went wrong so you can find your “type” and discover the right match in the future.
Align expectations from the very beginning. Starting the relationship with both sides wanting and anticipating the same things sets the partnership up for success. Keep an honest line of communication open between the brand and agency throughout the relationship and look for opportunities to share feedback. Good communication will keep the brand and agency aligned throughout the partnership.
Once matched, take the relationship to the next level by getting away from the checklist. Conner and Gingrich observed that a collaborative relationship that’s focused on problem-solving rather than checking boxes is the most successful kind of partnership. Also, stop focusing on hours and pay attention to outcomes. Results-focused partnerships will yield better results for both sides.
Conner and Gingrich also noted that opposites attract, so it’s important to know the strengths of the brand or agency to make the most of the partnership. Brands often hire agencies because they want access to a group of people who are totally focused on one thing. Agencies have access to data across a client set and can anticipate industry changes or suggest creative strategies that have worked on other sites. Use strengths like this to support the relationship, and look for ways to overcome or work around weaknesses from either side.
Have a crisis management plan in place. Outline responsibilities and processes, so that if either party needs to cover for the other, they can do so seamlessly and continue business as usual.
Align on priorities. Agencies need to help the brand understand which projects to focus on first and what type of work will have the most impact on their site. Brands need to communicate internal priorities and let the agency know when the work should shift to accommodate internal leadership or initiatives that the agency may not be able to anticipate.
Finally, take a unique approach to each partnership. Every brand or agency is unique, and if both sides come into the relationship remembering that it will be easy to customize the work, they’ll find a way to create the results both parties are hoping for.
Empowering the agency stakeholder
Next, Cindy Yerkie (global SEO technical lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and Bill Hunt (president at Back Azimuth Consulting) talked about the challenges within an enterprise-level company, HP. The company divorced two entities within the business and had the great challenge of separating on-site assets, as well as processes.
The team talked about delineating specific roles for both the brand and the agency to set the best foundation for a partnership. They also talked about the need for flexibility, which is why building in time for consulting hours and special projects was key to their great working partnership. This helped the brand fully leverage agency knowledge and allowed them to get outside of the “checklist” as well.
Yerkie and Hunt created thorough processes for each part of the business. This ensured best practices were applied across the department. It also meant that after the internal split, there were processes and governance to follow from day one.
Hunt recommended that agencies deliver recommendations in an easily digestible way. Agencies are great at delivering comprehensive audits that can be tough for a brand to fully wrap their heads around. In great partnerships, agencies should deliver recommendations in a way that is most actionable for the brand, even entering them into the ticketing system when possible. Doing so means the project gets done more quickly and often more accurately.
Brands hire agencies to solve problems for them, and they hope that those agencies will be proactive. The most proactive agencies, however, feel like stakeholders in the work. Allow your agency to solve complex problems and act as the expert you hired them to be by including them in the problem-solving process and aligning incentives.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, Yerkie said. Collaborate with your agency quite a bit, and trust them to do the work that you hired them to do.
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