Now that 2017 has started, many businesses are out there looking for a new marketing partner. Maybe sales declined last year. Maybe the holiday season was underwhelming. Maybe they just want to improve on mediocre. Whatever the reason, now’s the time to find a marketing partner that can help you achieve your goals for the new year.
The good news is there are a ton of marketers out there who will tell you they’d like to help you solve your problems. The bad news is that most of them have no idea how to do it. Worst case scenario: you’re bound to a marketing partner that can’t deliver and keeps you under contract, causing even more problems for your business.
How do you avoid that? Here are three things to look for when evaluating any marketing partner, either in-house or externally.
The first thing many businesses look for in a marketing partner is creativity. This is good. You want new perspectives and fresh ideas to help keep your brand lively and engaged with your customers. However, the type of creativity that’s rewarded is often the least effective.
For most marketing partners, the most visible form of creativity is their “creative work.” By this, we mean designs, copy, websites, and anything else that is visually tangible. What’s less tangible, however, is the creativity that influences their approach to business problems. How do they recommend positioning the business? What new ideas or capabilities are they bringing to the table? How can they help you create value in the marketplace, thereby creating value for your brand?
This goes beyond the traditional creative department tasked with designs and taglines. In fact, try not to be blinded by fancy graphics and copy. It’s more about the creativity they bring to everyday problem solving. Ask questions. Or, better yet, pay attention to the questions they ask. If they’re trying to prescribe a solution for a problem you don’t have, then look elsewhere. If they’re open, honest and introspective in their fact finding, you may have found the one.
Those two words “open” and “honest” are really important when looking for a marketing partner. Some people might call it “integrity.” We have a whole philosophy about it, mostly because we’ve seen the worst of the worst when coming in to fix the mess some marketers leave in their wake.
Many agencies, consultants and firms operate in an ethical gray area when it comes to keeping and retaining clients. I know; I’ve worked for companies that do that in the past. So here are some red flags to watch out for when it comes to the type of business relationship you might have with your new marketing partner.
If they repeatedly decline opportunities to collaborate, shoot down ideas and won’t share important information with you (like your website or social media accounts, for example) they’re not a partner. They’re a vendor who takes your money and holds you hostage. Run the other way and find a marketing partner more willing to work with you on your terms.
If you’ve been doing this a while, you may believe it’s impossible to work with a marketing partner that isn’t entirely self-serving. They’re out there, though, doing honest, unheralded work, unconcerned with the trappings of prestige and success. Or maybe they are and they’re still open about the way they do business. Either way, look for that agency, not the one that operates in secrecy.
At the same time, you’re bringing in your marketing partner to do a job. How are you holding them accountable? How do they respond when challenged to show their work? How do they explain the success they’re having? Can it be replicated? Conversely, are they using excuses for why they aren’t getting it done?
As the one footing the bill, you’re entitled to a certain level of professional accountability when it comes to your marketing partner. The good ones will lay out reasonable expectations when they start, then hold themselves accountable to achieving those results. Falling short, they can change course and offer explanations for what happened.
This is tied to transparency, since any marketing partner that doesn’t let you in will probably also shut you out when it comes to results. They’ll blame the budget. They’ll blame the product. They’ll blame pretty much anything that isn’t themselves. While some of their critiques may be valid, if they’re completely incapable of finding fault in their work, that’s a problem. And it’s one you should avoid.
Your Perfect Marketing Partner Is Out There
Right now, many companies are looking to strengthen their position and build on the momentum from last year. Sometimes, that means making friends with a new marketing partner, either internally with new hires or externally with a new agency.
And many of those same companies will be in this position again in 2018 as they look for answers as to why they failed to meet expectations this year. Avoid that fate. Look for a marketing partner that provides more value than they’re paid, overcomes challenges with creative thinking, and acts honestly when it comes to your business. Even if you’ve been burned by bad relationships in the past, that ideal marketing partner is out there.