In June of this year, we released a comprehensive guide for mid-market agencies looking to thrive in 2019. This is the first article in our 5 part series that will detail the research results and our extrapolation of the key insights that continue to be relevant as 2019 wraps up and we head into 2020.
As digital advertising becomes more complex, and the plethora of options available for campaigns expands, experienced agencies are becoming more integral to a brand’s ability to compete in the market. Brand marketers look to mid-market agencies not only to provide the skills and the technology to run their campaigns and provide the best performance, but so much more.
But how does a brand select which agency to work with? Well, there are endless resources. An article in Marketing Week is advising marketers on how not to choose an agency, and one in AdAge is counselling CMOs on what matters most when selecting one.
Similarly, agencies also have a plethora of resources and advice on how to be chosen. A post on AgencyAnalytics is providing nine proven strategies to get more clients for your agency. And yet, when we interviewed marketers to find out what they’re looking for and asked ad agencies how they go-to-market, we found some gaps. Through our Advertiser Perceptions Survey, we gained invaluable insight into what exactly brand marketers are looking for and how mid-market agencies can meet, or even exceed, those needs.
The Informality of the Process
Before we get to the secret sauce of how to ensure you are selected by prospective brands, let’s do a break down on the selection process. Marketers today are more likely to consider and evaluate agency relationships informally. They often forego RFPs for less structured processes. By avoiding the RFP process, marketers are afforded flexibility and speed without the trappings of contractual obligations. Marketers are less beholden to the agency, and more willing to experiment. The result is a system in which agencies undergo a test-and-trial period to determine whether the brand-agency relationship continues and how deep the engagement is.
This approach to agency selection and evaluation is purposefully fluid. In some cases, a simple word-of-mouth recommendation may initiate a new relationship. In others, marketers may pick partners that they want to test, perhaps to explore a specific niche in the marketplace (e.g., new technology or creative).
Informality means not only is it more relaxed to prospect brands, but also they are more likely to change partners if they find a better relationship elsewhere. When building the agency-client relationship, you want to keep the communication flow constant to uncover potential pain points and solve the issues, before the client ups and leaves. And of course, you want to ensure you have all the key capabilities marketers are looking for in an agency.
Once under consideration, an agency may then be put through a trial period with a focused, short-term ask. The evaluation considers the agency’s ability to deliver on the core capabilities. As it turns out, 80% of marketers ranked Programmatic Capabilities and Optimization as most important when selecting an agency to partner with for digital advertising. To that end, opportunities for mid-market agencies may exist to service larger brands, since these marketers are often less satisfied with their agency partners.
In addition to ad tech capabilities such as data science, data offerings and machine learning, marketers place a heavy importance on optimization, and creative services. In fact, 73% of large and 80% of mid-size brand marketers agree that optimization is the most important capability a mid-market agency should have. This includes having the ability to optimize in-house and in real-time. Marketers want to know that the agency they have partnered with is not outsourcing the digital campaign management, and is making campaign adjustments as needed, as opposed to simply analyzing the results at the end of the campaign. Having access to the right self-serve technology that allows mid-market agencies to achieve this is key.
In addition to these must-have capabilities, agency consideration goes further to assessing culture and its alignment with the brand. Marketers want to know that the agency they are working with is truly a partner, not just a vendor. They tend to be drawn to agencies that demonstrate partnership over rote execution, so building that relationship is integral to maintaining a great book of business.
How to Win at the Selection and Evaluation Stage
So how exactly do you win in the selection and evaluation stage? Well, it’s a combination of characteristics that lend themselves to the tight relationship you should be striving for with your clients. You need to really see the client as part of the team, with their best business interests in mind, and make them feel like a true partner.
Here are the 6 tips to ensure your agency is selected by a potential brand:
- Be flexible. Flexibility and agility are cornerstones of collaboration. As a mid-market agency, show how agile your working model is. The test vetting process might not be ideal for your team out of the gate, but if the marketer is open to running a test you can flex some muscle by demonstrating the capabilities you favour, including paid social media, paid search, targeting capabilities, machine learning capabilities, business intelligence, and agency culture.
- Be realistic. Make setting expectations part of the client acquisition process. If you take on unreasonable responsibilities, you’re doomed to fail. Even if they help you to land that big fish, you want sustainable, recurring customers.
- Be in-sync. To build a strong relationship, bring the client closer to their work. Don’t just manage the relationship, make them part of the process. Set clear, realistic goals together. These are the marriage of your client’s business strategy and your agency expertise to get them there.
- Be selected (and selective). Find out why they chose you. This might be the quickest way to understand the challenges they are facing that caused them to seek out an agency in the first place. Knowing exactly what they expect from you and how it will improve their business, as well as identifying any red flags, will ensure that the partnership makes sense long term.
- Be available (really available). Clients are more likely to bring more work your way if you’ve proven that you’ll deliver precisely what then want…and then some.
- Be proactive. Anticipate issues and questions before they arise so you are prepared to blow them away with your response and deal with anything head on.
“The value add is being proactive and anticipating things that I never even asked for.”Chief Marketing Officer, Healthcare
Keeping these 6 tips in mind will be the starting point for a mutually beneficial relationship between your agency and the brand marketer. We will be revealing more of the invaluable learnings we gained from our Advertiser Perceptions research—up next, the second installment of our 5 part series: Mid-Market Agency, Large Scale Advantage: The Reasons They Win Business.
Reach out to your StackAdapt representative to get your copy of the report, The New Programmatic Era: How Mid-Market Agencies can Thrive and the The Mid-Market Agency: A Blueprint for Growth.