Briefing, Selecting and Managing Marketing Agencies


Marketing agencies will be the bane and boon of your life. With careful management they can transform the performance of your brand, your business and yourself.

To get the most out of agencies be clear about your objectives and needs, understand your agency and work at the relationship.

Be clear about your objectives

When briefing agencies be as open as you can. The more an agency understands your needs and issues the more they will be able to help you. Prepare a written brief; the process of doing so will help you clarify issues and opportunities and engage and gain agreement and support from your colleagues.

Understanding agencies

The agency landscape is constantly changing. At one end of the spectrum the agency groups owned by the likes of WPP and Omnicom. At the other there is an ever-changing mix of independent and up and coming agencies. Keep abreast of the changes.

Monitor the people moves especially if it is happening in one of your agencies. Check out the odd new agency that catches your eye.  The nature of the profession means that there are good people in many places and those that are most vigilant stand to benefit the most.

In terms of cost, understand how remuneration works. The more intellectual or consulting agencies work on a mainly time cost basis. Database marketing and campaign communication agencies tend to be time and/or cost-plus. Marketing implementation services are more price list driven, for example pay-per-click plus fixed fee. Overall, expect to pay more for those with London offices and less in the suburbs or rural areas. Expect to pay more for a heavy-duty management team, those with an overseas management structure and those that belong to a quoted group. Fewer layers and complexity means lower costs.

Manage marketing strategy and implementation

Developing creative and truly integrated marketing campaigns  requires strong agency management. Campaigns can fail for either strategic or executional reasons and a poor brief is often seen as a reason to reinvent your strategy.  Great communications are underpinned by robust insights and a clear and compelling brand positioning. All agencies say they do this – but brand or marketing communication strategy is a specialist skill and most do not.   Seek specialist help when needed and if you are working across multiple media, use your management skills to ensure collaborative working, set the tone and define and manage demarcation lines.

Build good relationships

Having seen the world from both sides of the fence, if you are paying an agency to help you, never be in doubt that they are on your side. But remember that agency people are human  – they’ll work harder for you if they like you. So build good relationships; let your agency know that you are on their side – and if the work is deserving, give the occasional thank-you. Good relationships can return benefits in many ways, for example in terms of profile and career advancement!

To brief a marketing consultancy, agency or your in-house team use our handy one-page marketing briefing guidelines.

To brief a market research agency, follow our example market research brief.

For more insights on briefing, selecting and managing agencies, read The Marketing Director’s Handbook. It has been acclaimed as a book that all directors should read and that all marketing directors should keep close to hand.  It is now available in hardback and ebook (epub) formats.

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