As someone who has worked at agencies and in account management for most of my professional career, I can tell you that agency staff spend a great deal of effort on creating a successful client and outsourced agency relationship. But it's a two-way street: In order for true success to materialize, clients need to do their part as well. In fact, when clients take certain steps in the name of harmonizing the relationship, they're ultimately doing themselves a service as well because it helps their agency serve them better and deliver on what they need.
When partnering with an outsourced agency for your content marketing efforts, or any other effort, there are so many things that can make the relationship go sour. The partnership has to be handled carefully to ensure each party is able to excel at what it does best and to ensure the outsourced agency delivers on its promise.
Here are some things to loop your outsourced agency in on that will help ensure partnership success:
Sometimes internal changes are unanticipated. Sometimes, they are such a huge deal that you aren't sure how to discuss them yet. And in some instances, you may think they are so tiny that no one outside the company really needs to know about them. Well, when it comes to your outsourced agency partners, they'll need to know about any internal changes that touch what they do in any way, and they'll need to know about them as soon as possible. For instance, if the point of contact (POC) ends up changing, or if certain people within your company no longer need to be included in certain meetings, you need to let your agency contacts know. This will give them time to get in touch with the new POC to pick back up with the strategy before any deadlines may be missed.
This sounds like I'm already accusing you of not being willing to collaborate, which I swear I'm not! But we love it when our clients want to collaborate. Yes, it is your agency partners' job to provide the service you're paying them to provide, but there will be times — especially in the beginning of the relationship — where they'll need to pick your brain, ask you questions, have a discovery call, or simply ask for your input on something. This is a team effort, one that each party has a stake in, so in order to produce results that satisfy both you (aka the client) and the agency, you have to be forthcoming with ideas, input, and direction.
Metrics should be established before a project gets underway. Every agency knows that if it's going to provide a client with something, understanding how that client will measure the success of that project is key. That's why I recommend that agencies directly ask, "How will you be measuring the success of our efforts?" In turn, clients must be very straightforward and clear when they give their answer and state the various ways they'll measure success from the partnership. Whether it's how many click-backs to your website you receive, how many leads your sales team closes using the content your agency creates, or how many more followers your company gets on Twitter, state the goal and metrics clearly to your agency so that it can deliver on those expectations.
Sending an email and getting an unexpected out-of-office reply can sometimes feel like a punch in the gut. Especially when that email contains something that needs client approval in order to meet an important deadline. Let your agency partners know ahead of time (I suggest a few weeks at least) when you'll be traveling. This gives them an appropriate heads up, and it will give you time to designate someone else to step in to approve and review content or just provide a touchpoint for them in your absence.
Just as you are an expert at what it is your company does and provides, the agency you're working with is an expert in what it does. It can be hard, but you have to trust your agency partners when it comes to the strategy you're asking them to provide. After all, there's a reason why you needed their help, and while they may have some suggestions you aren't totally sure about, give them a chance to prove to you why you hired them in the first place.
You're a very busy person with a lot on your plate. Oftentimes, what your outsourced agency is working on involves just a fraction of what your day-to-day job entails. That said, when your agency partners help you establish deadlines for projects, you still need to do what you can to help them meet those goals. Whatever your agency counterparts are working on is likely contingent on your review, approval, and input, so if you're moving their emails to the bottom of your inbox, or putting off getting back to them, your deadlines will most likely have to shift.
Feedback isn't an ugly word. In fact, good or bad, your agency partners want your feedback. If they're going to improve, or continue to do something right, they need to hear what you think. Your feedback is really what helps them determine whether they're going in the right direction, but it has to be specific and pinpoint missteps or the correct moves. Simply saying, "I don't like this" or "Please omit" without offering a deeper explanation of why you don't like something or want something removed will not ensure they won't make the same mistake again. Don't be afraid to get specific: Your agency and your content will thank you for it.
When your agency partners create something for you that helps you achieve a goal or valuable experience of some kind, share it with them! Everyone loves positive reinforcement, and sharing when something they have created has led to a sale, a positive experience with your own clients, or even helped you hire a new employee will show your agency counterparts that they're doing a good job. It can also create a point of reference for future projects or make for a good case study that they can use internally.
Setbacks are inevitable. No agency-client relationship is perfect, and there are bound to be missteps from time to time. When working with the people at your outsourced agency, remember that they are only trying to help you. If something in your content strategy doesn't go totally as planned, or if they make a mistake, don't let that ruin the future of your partnership. Work with them to figure out why that mistake happened and what needs to be done to correct it. Know that great, positive things can still happen after a setback. If you fixate on the negative, you'll miss out on future opportunities.
It's the job of your agency partners to not only deliver on the service you're paying them for, but also to make sure you're happy. That's not to say it's totally in their control, though. Make sure you're doing your part to set them up for success, which will ultimately contribute to your satisfaction as well.
Natalie Slyman is a content marketing and social media professional. She enjoys reading her favorite blogs, perusing Instagram, and talking about her cats (even when no one is listening).