Marketing Services - The Blame Game - cartoonSo you’re running a business and you’ve contracted out the various marketing services your business needs.  The problem is: you’re not happy with what you’re getting. 

Maybe you feel it’s poor value for money, or the quality of work that’s being produced isn’t generating the returns you would realistically like to see on your investment.

What can you do about it?  The likelihood is that you’ve felt uneasy for quite a while, largely because a period of time has to elapse before you can see how effective an agency’s work really is.

To complicate things, it may be that your outside supplier was recommended by a trusted friend or business colleague.  Or maybe there are one or two people in your company who are perfectly happy with your current arrangement?

(The assumption here is that you’re the one who’s in a position to do something about the problem, either by removing the offending supplier or by persuading colleagues that you all have a liability in your midst!)

It’s usually the case in this type of predicament that your gut feeling is right and you should therefore take whatever action is necessary – sooner rather than later.

Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to draw up a list of what your main issues are with the arrangement – whether or not other people will be involved subsequently in working with you to find a solution.

What Are Your Concerns?

As with all business problems, you first need to identify what’s going wrong – and then find ways of putting it right.  This may sound obvious, but have you considered that the problems you think may originate with your marketing services supplier may in fact be a symptom of a broader problem within your business?

This is a question you need to bear in mind when you’re examining your present position.  Like the human body, businesses are organic entities.  When a problem arises in one area, the causes may well be elsewhere.  With issues such as value for money and making a decent return on your investment in marketing services, there could be a host of potential triggers you’d never even considered.

  • Value For Money 

When it comes to getting value for money from the people who write and design your website, advertisements and brochures; who plan your PR and media relations campaigns; who handle your search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media marketing… are you aware of what they’re up to?  Are communications between you as good as they should be?

What’s going on out there?  Are you able to evaluate your agency’s activities?  Can you measure their results against your own financial targets and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?  Are you monitoring your competitors?  Are you spending enough on marketing?  Is your marketing budget being spent in the most cost-effective way?

When you say ‘value for money’, what do you mean?  How do you measure ‘value’?  Are you confusing value for money with ‘price’? (i.e. what you’re actually paying your marketing suppliers.)  All these issues may start alarm bells ringing in areas of your business that are totally unrelated to your suppliers’ activities and, dare it be said, areas for which you and your colleagues should be the ones to shoulder ultimate responsibility.

  • Return On Investment 

‘Marketing’ is a broad church – but your business in its entirety is even broader!  Your investment in marketing may be hindered by shortcomings elsewhere in your business.  The examples are many…

Consider, for starters, the quality of your product or service.  And what about the competitiveness of your price-points?  Is your sales force effective?  What about your distribution and deliveries?  Is everything co-ordinated for optimum customer satisfaction – including repeat business?  If applicable, is your in-store merchandising up to scratch?

Look at the bigger picture.  Look beyond your marketing and all the services associated with it.  Most fundamental of all: is your business model flawed?  Have your products reached the end of their life-cycle?  Is your company innovative enough?  Should you be looking at overseas’ markets, especially if you’ve already saturated domestic options?

It may be that your marketing investment is missing the mark.  If you’re in a changing market, maybe you need a new approach.  And if demand for your type of product or service has shifted online, maybe you need to embrace a multi-channel, integrated marketing approach – if you want to avoid extinction, that is.


Finding the Solution 

Having exhausted the possibilities that your problems aren’t elsewhere in your business, what then is the next most sensible step?  Do you fire the incumbents and look for a replacement – or should you be looking at how to get more bangs for your buck from your existing agency?

This is often an internal, ‘political’ decision, especially if you don’t have the standalone responsibility to hire and fire.  Maybe one of your colleagues did the initial hiring.  In this case, you should be aware of their potential embarrassment with your under-performing supplier.

However the situation is handled, you need to look at the issues you should address to improve your company’s marketing performance.  Whether you’re urging your existing agency to save their skins by putting in an extra shift or bringing in a new set of faces, there are clear-cut ways to solve your problems.

First: is your marketing strategy right?  Was it OK two or three years ago but your initial ideas have been overtaken by events?  For example, 15 years ago the Internet was in its infancy as a marketing tool.  Ten years ago, SEO was a different animal to what it was three years ago – and very different to what it is today.  Five years ago, social media was a joke in the eyes of ‘serious’ business people.  Now, it’s a must-have feature in any marketing plan.

Evolution has always been with us, but the difference today is that change is accelerating with every passing year.  The question which must be asked is: are you keeping up with change?  If not, how can you formulate a coherent marketing strategy?  More to the point – how can you expect to direct your marketing agency, new or incumbent?

Next up is the question of ‘creativity’.  How much do you value it?  Are you sure you know what it is – and what role it plays in a successful marketing policy?  Creative ideas are an essential component of innovation, of continually re-positioning yourself in the market-place.  Likewise, implementing outstanding creative work will help your business stand out from the rest.  Creativity adds value; it provides distinctiveness; and lends support to your USPs and long-term strategic branding.

And what of the all-important chemistry between your business (aka ‘the client’) and the agency, consultant – or even your in-house team -who you’ve charged to implement your marketing policies?  There’s no doubt it takes courage to give your agency its head.  You need to have great faith and confidence in their capabilities from the outset.

At the opposite extreme, if you’re continually involving yourself in the day-to-day minutiae of implementing policy, constantly over-riding your agency’s ideas and changing policy on the hoof – then the stage is set for disillusionment, confrontation and ultimate failure.

Inter-personal compatibility should be one of the first identifiers that unite client and agency at the appointment stage.  Ensuring a fruitful sharing of ideas as time goes by is equally crucial to achieving a successful long-term outcome.

Agency Performance

With all these factors to consider, it’s important to think long and hard about your side of the equation before fingers are pointed at your marketing services agency.  Only when you’ve eliminated all the external influences on the effectiveness of your agency-client relationship can you turn to the performance of the agency itself.  If things aren’t working out, it’s unlikely to be the agency that’s totally at fault.

The problem may lie with the fact they’re inexperienced in your sector (having assured you from the outset that they will deliver success to your door!).  They may be short-staffed, pre-occupied with a much bigger client or over-stretched with new business pitches – or even a string of new business wins which has stretched their resources to the limit.

These are the more charitable excuses.  It may be that the individuals employed to work on your business are simply not up to the job.  Or maybe the demands of your business are beyond the abilities (creative, intellectual or organisational) of the agency as a whole.

There’s no need to go into detail – but both parties will know when a mis-match has occurred.  If the agency’s to blame, the sooner they own up to their shortcomings the better.  Don’t accept excuses that they’re working on improving things;  that’s unlikely to happen.

Sometimes it’s tough being a client.  Even if you like your agency people on a personal level, you will still need to sever the relationship in order to protect your business and the livelihoods of your fellow directors and staff.  Your loyalty has to be to a successful outcome.  Apportioning blame for lack of marketing success must always be non-negotiable.

For more information about the Marketing Services available from Buzzwords, visit the company’s website today.

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