People sitting around a table discussing business.
PHOTO: David Leo Veksler

Digital marketing agencies aren’t going anywhere. The top 100 digital agencies — which include digital marketing, design and build, and technical and creative agencies — made a combined $2.8 billion with an average growth of 20 percent, according to Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies Report 2017. Digital agencies help marketers revamp or build websites, run marketing campaigns, construct social media strategies and help with digital tool selection, among other things. 

If you're in marketing you will most likely work with a digital marketing agency at some point, contributing to that $2.8 billion. It’s a crucial relationship, and it’s incumbent upon marketing teams to make sure it’s successful by being transparent, open to feedback and treating your digital marketing agency like a true partner, experts told CMSWire. We caught up with some people on each side of that relationship for some helpful tips in building a relationship with a digital marketing agency.

Be Responsive to Your Digital Marketing Agency's Needs

Dave R. Taylor, chief marketing officer of Impartner, said modern marketing agencies aren't the set-and-forget type. Digital marketing agencies are strategic business partners who require regular feedback. “Responsiveness is especially important with public relations or social media agencies," he said. Taylor cited two common examples, where feedback and responsiveness can make a big difference.

  • A digital marketing agency that specializes in PR needs your company representatives to provide a reaction to current news or events, and fast, for media with deadlines.
  • When a new topic is trending on Twitter, your social media team needs to join the conversation quickly to maintain relevance. “If your marketing team can’t respond to these requests promptly, you risk losing out on the opportunities you’re paying your agency to deliver,” Taylor said.

Don’t Be Resistant to Feedback on Your Organization

Like it or not, your digital marketing agency partner may teach you about your own company, Taylor said. You may want to maintain a consistent marketing strategy, but an outside digital marketing agency’s perspective can be invaluable. “Agency partners can drive your business forward by pointing out new ways to position your company and new ways to message your products or services,” Taylor said.

Digital marketing agencies that specialize in SEO, for instance, can do more than just optimize your website or increase your search ranking. “Many can advise you on how competitors are performing and what you can do to gain an edge,” Taylor said. Advertising agencies may have built digital media campaigns for companies similar to your own company and can guide you on what works and what doesn’t, informing your ad spend.

Don’t shut down your digital marketing agency or you risk missing an opportunity. “Your PR agency could open your mind to new ways of positioning your brand, and might even point you toward areas of expertise you didn’t even know you had,” Taylor added.

Related Article: Navigating the RFP Process: 7 Tips on Evaluating Digital Agency Experience

Ensure Agencies Understand the Technology

When evaluating digital marketing agencies, consider both the art and science of marketing, said Mary Ellen Dugan, chief marketing officer for WP Engine. “Not only does your digital agency need to deliver creative, breakthrough campaigns but it’s vital they excel at the science of digital — the marketing tech and analytics — as well,” she said. “As the landscape continues to expand and evolve, the need to leverage technology that allows rapid prototyping, agility, communication, collaboration and measurement is essential for success.”

Clearly Outline Expectations for Success

Make sure your digital marketing agencies understand how digital marketing campaign metrics map directly to the company’s business objectives. Your organization has to understand your digital marketing agency's philosophy on success and you must clearly set expectations on ROI to alleviate any pushback from the CFO for digital budgets. “Simply put,” Dugan said, “find an agency that matches your philosophy on digital impact.”

Related Article: 5 Reasons Marketing Budgets Will Drop in 2018

Do Your Research

Don’t forget there’s more to just improving your digital business when it comes to working with agencies. Jenn Tanabe, director of project management for digital marketing agency Vertical Measures, said it’s important for marketers to get face-to-face time with their agency, or potential agency, when possible. Tanabe suggests organizations push for things like video conferencing meetings if face-to-face is not in the cards. If it is, an office visit to your digital marketing agency can be valuable because you can get a better sense of the digital marketing agency's culture, Tanabe said.

Get to know about your digital marketing agency “culture-wise,” Tanabe suggested. What can you find about them on their website? Or Glassdoor? Have they won a “best places to work” type award? Are they willing to connect you with a current/past client for a recommendation? “Anything you can find out in terms of what the agency values is crucial to knowing who they are,” Tanabe said. 

Be Transparent With Them

Tanabe stressed the keys to a good working relationship with a digital marketing agency are transparency, collaboration, partnership and implementation, about which she blogged. Your organization should help the digital marketing agency support the full scope of your marketing programs, even if they don't particularly work on each of them. Be clear about what you may be doing on the traditional marketing side, any other digital marketing that the digital marketing agency may not be responsible for and new services/product offerings, etc. “This helps the digital agency better support and recommend strategies,” Tanabe said.

Make sure that your digital marketing agency partners understand how each area of your lines of business works so they can provide you with their best service, Taylor said. “It’s not enough for an agency to know what your company sells. If your agency doesn’t have a firm understanding of how you work, they won’t be nearly as effective,” Taylor added. “This is especially important for ad and search teams, who have to target content very specifically.”

A digital marketing agency’s outside research can only go so far, Taylor said, especially if you’re selling software. “Give your partner agencies a walk-through as soon as you can, so they know exactly what your prospective customers stand to gain and how to communicate these gains most effectively,” Taylor said.

Find a Partner Not a Vendor

Don't just set-and-forget your digital marketing campaigns with your digital marketing agency. Collaboration is key, Tanabe said, because the marketer is truly the expert in their own industry/service/product. “The digital agency is the expert in digital recommendations and does their research to get to know the marketer’s business, but they may never know the marketer’s business as instinctively as the marketer,” she said. Think of it this way: the digital marketing agency is a partner, not a vendor, Tanabe added.

Are They Responsive Enough?

Can your digital marketing agency move fast? Will you be a priority when you have a digital fire? One of the biggest benefits — and challenges — of digital is the speed at which you can launch new campaigns, test and engage audiences, according to Dugan. “When evaluating new agencies, ensure their organization is equipped to move very quickly,” she said. “Every second counts online and if the agency isn’t able to adapt and take advantage of opportunities in real-time, it can greatly impact your success. As more companies and industries undergo their own digital transformations this speed and agility will become ever more important.”