3 Secrets to Working with a Marketing Agency

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By Peter Decoteau

Whether you have a full marketing team or you’re figuring it out as you go, it’s sometimes necessary to turn to an outside agency for your marketing needs.

Some instances that may call for this can include big initiatives, such as support for a full marketing campaign, a rebrand or celebrating a company milestone, or small needs to help you focus on treating patients, like content support or video production. In any case, there is often a range of options to choose from at a range of prices, and it can be confusing and a bit intimidating to find the right fit for your needs and budget. As someone who has worked both with and within the agency world, I’ve picked up some tips and secrets along the way that may help make your decision a bit easier.

1) ‘WAG YOUR TAIL’

In a case of “the tail wagging the dog,” clients often turn to an agency for answers and direction in their marketing. While confidence in your agency is vital to a successful partnership, starting from a place of vagueness regarding their understanding of your industry and your company is a recipe for a lot of wasted time and money.

If you don’t currently have a comprehensive “brand guide” for your business, make sure to put into writing for your new partner all of the things that define you. Even if you’re hiring an agency specifically to help clarify your brand identity or to rebrand, the core tenets of who you are should be made clear: your mission, values, culture, approach to care, differentiators, key messages, target (or desired) audience, leaders and employees, facilities, biggest competition. All of these things paint a picture for the agency of your strengths, character, and potential weaknesses.

If you do not define yourself, the agency will do it for you, and you will likely find yourself down a long and expensive road with a final product that does not represent you or speak to your audience.

2) DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS

It’s often in the best interest of the agency to keep their clients happy, and in some cases that may mean reaching for examples of achievement and performance that sound good but tell an incomplete story or deflect from poor performance.

Before reaching out to potential partners, be sure to identify your goals with this partnership in the SMART format (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-based) to ensure the agency team is clear on what you are asking for and how you define success. These may be as broad as “increase new patient inquiries by 10%” or as specific as “land five lead news stories,” but in either case, they should be concrete, measurable, and of course, reasonable.

After you identify your goal(s) for the partnership, make sure to also identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that demonstrate performance along the way, otherwise they’ll be set for you. For example, in running digital advertising campaigns, metrics such as click-thru rate (CTR) and impressions (i.e., amount of times your ad has been viewed) are often pointed to as indicators of campaign performance and can certainly suggest campaign trends.

Unfortunately, these metrics are sometimes used as definitions of success themselves, when the true definition of your campaign’s success should lie within deeper data that tracks conversion events (for goals such as new appointment requests) or lead generation (for broader goals like brand awareness).

Likewise, for less quantitative goals such as rebranding, you’ll need to get clever with how you set and measure KPIs. If one of the goals is a new logo by a certain date, establish expectations for a certain number of draft variations along the way so communication can be open, and performance can be evaluated. As the project moves along, if the drafts are not being completed, or are repeatedly not aligned with your vision and brand (and if you’ve been clear about who you are and what you want), it’s an indicator of performance that’s lacking.

3) KNOW YOUR PARTNER

When meeting agencies, it can be easy to get swept up in their world; I’ve seen lunchrooms built to look like ’50s diners offering free food for all guests, heard all types of industry jargon and metrics that sound splashy but mean next to nothing, witnessed account representatives showing flashy animated graphics and boasting of big-time digital ad awards to clients looking for support with print materials. At the end of the day, the first people you meet with will likely be fancier versions of sales representatives, and so it’s important to go into initial meetings with a healthy dose of skepticism and a clear eye on your goals. This is not to say that all marketing agencies are underhanded in representing their services — in fact, the majority I’ve worked with are not — but the critical question is whether their approach, personality, and team matches your needs.

The important first step is to determine those needs based on your SMART goals and then do your research into agencies that specialize in or have a strong department in that area. For example, some agencies specialize in digital advertising, search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), while others focus on branding but include digital services as a part of broader campaigns. If your goals are specific to digital and web-related needs, it makes more sense to meet with specialty agencies, as their teams are likely more experienced in niche aspects of digital marketing, whereas if your goal is centered around a rebrand that potentially requires a new website, you should search for a comprehensive agency that has a strong web department (as opposed to a brand agency more known for things like graphic design, PR or traditional media).

When meeting an agency’s team for the first time, some questions to consider and red flags to look for include:

  • What does their tenure and turnover look like? I’ve often heard of the agency world referred to as a “revolving door,” and in many cases inexperienced new staffers or interns will be put on smaller, less lucrative projects. Make sure to ask who will be managing the account and who, specifically, will be executing on deliverables.
  • Has the agency worked with other clients in the industry? Just as important as knowing and understanding who you are, it’s important that your partner understands the healthcare industry — can speak its language, knows its audience, understands its challenges — otherwise you’ll find yourself spending time and resources getting them up to speed.
  • What is their project management and communication style? Learn how the agency manages clients before getting into business with them, as gaps in how the two parties operate and communicate can cause frustration and confusion down the line. Set expectations for regularity of communication and who you will be communicating with off the bat and establish how much input you’d like to have as the project moves along.

Following these guidelines should provide a roadmap towards success with a marketing agency, leaving your recipe for success as the only remaining secret. 


Peter Decoteau

Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at peter.decoteau@ptsmc.com.

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