The AMA MicroDigital Guide to working with a digital agency
Whatever the digital capabilities you’re dreaming of - be it a new website, ad campaign, app, VR experience or anything else besides – there’s likely to be an abundance of agencies out there keen to deliver it for you. Marketing consultant Becca Pratt has pulled together six of the most important things to address before embarking on your next digital adventure.
Even though the tech and digital space is rapidly evolving, there are some simple and consistent factors to consider when appointing and working with an agency. Here are our top 6 tips.
1. Say what you want to achieve, not just what you want
Before sitting down to write the brief, make sure you understand your organisation’s goals and how this project aligns with them. For example, if you have a goal to increase the number of new audiences coming to the venue, then part of this might be improving the number of newsletter sign ups you receive.
It might be tempting to simply say:
‘We want to create a form through which people can submit their contact details’
However, giving the agency the full context will help them get a better understand of what you’re asking in order to arrive at the most effective solution, for example:
‘We want to improve the number of new visitors to the venue by 10% by (date). We have identified that email is a highly effective channel for converting audiences. Therefore, we want to increase the number of people registering to receive email communications via our website.’
By explaining what you want to achieve - rather than simply what you want - it enables the agency to bring their own expertise and suggestions to the table – and perhaps land on an even better solution than you had in mind in the first place.
Other key things to include in your brief should be the context of your organisation and audiences, as well as timelines and budgets (but more on that later).
2. Choosing the right agency
So, you’ve decided on your objectives and have written your brief – how do you know which agency to choose or send it out to?
A good place to start is by asking peers or colleagues for recommendations. Alternatively look up websites and projects you liked and see if you can find a credit. Once you’ve found a few, have a look at their staff section and see if their expertise lines up with what you’re looking for.
Another good place to look is their client list – are they working with organisations similar to you? If so it’s a good indication they might be a good fit for the scale and budget of your project. When they respond to your brief they should also list the people who will be attached to the project, depending on the size and requirements of the brief most agencies will be happy to meet with you in advance of the work being appointed so you can get a feel for the type of people you’ll be working with.
Also think about what matters to you – is it important they are nearby so you can meet face to face? Or is it important to keep costs low? Perhaps you saw another example of their work you loved so you think they would be a perfect fit.
All of these are perfectly reasonable criteria, it just depends on the importance you or your organisation place on these factors. Perhaps you were let down by an agency previously, so getting one that’s highly recommended is a priority. For others, working with a company far away is fine if they can do the work within the budget. A lot depends on the context you’re working in.
3. Know your budget range from the off
Not all agencies are created equal – some won’t embark on a project for less than tens of thousands of pounds, others are all too happy to take on smaller briefs or chunks of work.
A new website for example could fall into either of these categories; being upfront about your budget will help to ensure both parties are on the same page from the start. Being clear about deliverables and objectives (see point one) will help you do this. Providing a realistic budget gives an agency the opportunity to respond with a realistic proposal.
Not having an exact figure isn’t usually a problem - stating a range or your maximum amount should be enough for most companies. Once you get a quote back from an agency, they should include a breakdown of their fees and where these costs will sit so you can see it all clearly. Make sure you also factor in ongoing running and maintenance costs too.
4. Question any costs or terms you don’t understand
All too often, you’ll see a cost breakdown full of acronyms or jargon – don’t panic. A good agency should be able to help you understand the purpose of certain fees easily. Web projects are often one of the biggest investments an organisation will make so being fluent in the financials from the start is important to see where you could make savings or where you might need to up spend.
Similarly, if briefing in an ad campaign, make sure you understand how the agency charges clients for this – is it time, commission or spend based? Will they charge you for a meeting or report? Small or seemingly unsubstantial charges can quickly add up. Take a close look at your contract and make sure there are no hidden or excessive fees.
5. You get out what you put in
Once an agency is appointed, clients often think the hard work is done and they can sit back and leave them to it - this couldn’t be further from the truth! As with any relationship, you get back out what you put in. Consider the time and resource you really have to put into the project on an ongoing basis.
Web projects also often have a nasty habit of running over their completion date. Build in a realistic timeline from the start including contingency if possible so you’re not rushing to launch. Similarly, getting revved up to start on a supposedly game-changing campaign only for it to fall flat due to lack of time client-side is not a situation anyone relishes. Be realistic about what you can actually commit to going forwards.
6. Getting the relationship right
An agency should feel like an extension of your team, so understanding how often you’ll be able to meet and how you will collaborate is important. Knowing about the tools they have to manage your requests and who you’ll be dealing with on a day to day basis is crucial to get the relationship right. Will you be able to view progress through project management software? Or will everything go through an account manager? Should something go wrong, who can you contact out of hours? Understanding all this will help you forge a productive partnership.
Ultimately, running a digital project relies on trust, communication and a shared vision – just like any other project. Following these principles should help you to find an agency that sees your success as their success and makes the entire process manageable and cost-effective for everyone.
Becca is a marketing consultant with 10 years’ experience in the arts and entertainment space, and a focus on digital skills. She helps to upskill staff and align their use of social media, websites, digital analytics and Google with organisational and marketing goals.