Finding and hiring the right agency is often a difficult decision. How do you know they’ll deliver what you and your marketing team need? Will they be enjoyable to work with? Just how many proposals and pitch sessions do you need to make your selection?
Once you’ve made that decision, the real work begins. You must onboard your new agency partner to simultaneously get them up to speed (ASAP!) and set them up for success over the long term.
I’m going to emphasize that word – partner. We at Metis are adamant that we are partners to our clients, an extension of their team really, and not just another vendor.
Developing a successful client-agency partnership is our top priority. Naturally, we can only do that if we’re able to be successful at our job, which requires support, access and transparency from our clients.
That said, onboarding and engaging a new agency requires time and dedication. It’s like you’re onboarding another marketing executive to work alongside you. The first 90 days tend to be a crucial time period. Everyone needs to ramp up, understand what they’re working with quickly, and start accumulating wins.
With that in mind, the following guidance for onboarding an agency can help you net success in the first three months – and long into the future.
Define what a successful agency partnership means
What are you expecting your agency partner to achieve? What are their goals and KPIs, and how do those fit into your broader marketing goals? Ideally, you’d have already articulated this, but if not, now’s the time to lay it out. Set expectations with the agency team. This means both the deliverables as well as the metrics or KPIs your agency is expected to influence.
Now for the important question: Are all other stakeholders in agreement with the set expectations?
You don’t want to have your agency show success against agreed-upon goals, only to find out the CEO or board is holding them accountable to a different set of goals. As CMO or VP of marketing, you’re the hub of activity, and the one person who can ensure all stakeholders are on the same page.
Your agency should be up front about what they’ll need to successfully do their job, too. Be realistic and ensure they know what’s available (or not available) so that they can understand any challenges from the start.
Finally, level-set expectations around processes and communication. How does the agency prefer to work, what project management tools or others might they introduce to your workflow, and how does that mesh with your team’s existing processes? Similarly, be up front about your team’s preferences. How quickly do you expect responses? What are your typical working hours? Do you prefer video chat over phone calls or Slack over email?
These discussions will help you set yourself up for smooth operations.
Be transparent with your PR and marketing partners
The more access and insight your agency has within your organization, the more likely they’ll be successful. Be sure to provide a thorough and accurate overview of the company.
Answer questions like: Who are the key stakeholders? How is marketing perceived by other departments – is marketing viewed as a valuable revenue-driver or as a cost center? Do sales and marketing have a strong partnership, or is there a lot of finger pointing? Can customer success provide customer references or is it a struggle to get approval? Who are the subject matter experts? What does your spokesperson bench look like and do any executives need media training?
Also be sure to provide an in-depth overview of your market and analysis of your company’s position within it. How does your solution stack up against competitors? Where are you strong vs. where do you get dinged? Share customer and prospect feedback so your agency has a holistic view of the state of the market.
If you fully immerse the agency within your company, they’ll be better equipped to provide valuable input and counsel on your overall marketing strategy.
Here is just a sampling of what to share with your agency team at the start of a marketing or PR engagement:
- Key brand messages and guidelines
- Company overviews, and pitch and sales decks
- Overview of historical PR, media and analyst work
- Overview of marketing, pipeline and brand goals
- Buyer persona profiles and target accounts
- Competitive overview and differentiators
- Sales pitch and product/solution demos
- Customer service and success overview
- Marketing funnel and sales process overview
- Executive leadership interviews for thought leadership topics
- Marketing collateral
- Editorial, news, event and campaign calendars
- Access to your marketing tech stack (e.g. Google Analytics, HubSpot, Marketo, MailChimp, Demandbase, etc.)
- PR assets including boilerplate, executive bios and headshots, product artwork, company summaries and more
- Brand guidelines and design assets
How to measure results – and keep your agency successful
There are several things you can do to help accelerate your agency – and subsequently your marketing team – toward success.
Agree upon metrics and reporting
As you work through these kick-off items, your agency should be creating – and maybe even already executing on – their plan. You’ve already agreed upon deliverables, goals and KPIs, but now’s the time to consider how all of the work and progress will be reported on.
Your agency will likely have a recommended reporting framework, but look at whether it aligns with how you measure your marketing team now. Which metrics are most important to measure, how do you incorporate them into your own reporting, and do you need supplemental reporting for your senior leadership, board or anyone else?
Stay focused on the goal
Over time, it’s common that “nice-to-have” ideas start getting thrown around. While your agency may be happy to expand their scope and support you on other projects, it’s important that these activities do not turn into distractions.
Unless the program goals have shifted, keep your agency on track to achieve success on those initial goals. If their focus becomes fragmented across miscellaneous projects, you’re risking their success. This is also why it helps to have one internal decision maker and point person for your agency team to work with.
Share honest feedback early and often
For any team just starting to work together, it takes a bit to figure out working styles, beliefs, preferences and so on. Be vocal about what impresses you (or other stakeholders) and celebrate wins, but be just as upfront about anything that is troubling or you don’t view up to par. The more your agency team knows, the faster they’ll be able to adapt.
Ask for clarification or education on any recommendations or insights from your agency team that you don’t understand. Remember, your agency is an expert in their domain – that’s why you hired them – but you’re an expert in your brand. If something feels off, voice your concerns so that you can identify the best way forward.
Extend the internal experience
Invite your agency team to company events and make sure they have a feel for your culture, customer service and more. Filming some customer testimonials onsite? Invite your agency team. Hosting a customer summit? Invite your agency team.
You never know where the next campaign idea will come from, and your partners can do better work when they have full insight and fodder for ideas.
Get to know each other
We’re big proponents of “chemistry matters.” In short, you want to work with people who you enjoy collaborating with and who challenge you to do better work.
Take the time to schedule in-person meetings, after-work dinners or even time for personal chit-chat during your status calls – just as you would with your team members. A strong team rapport makes the work fun and motivates everyone to deliver the best results possible.
It’s important to dedicate your time and attention throughout the onboarding period and onward. An agency relationship is a partnership. When everyone knows their responsibilities, and holds up their end of the bargain, you’ll embark on a long, productive and profitable engagement.
Read more: What Makes a Great Creative Agency Team?