How to get the best from your digital agency

This question has been on my mind for a few weeks now.


As a company, how do you get the best results from a digital agency you’re working with?

I’ve been working in digital now for nearly 20 years, and there are some key lessons I’ve learned over the years about how the best client–agency relationships work.


Is it all about results?

At the end of the day, yes. Any agency that a company commissions is being brought in to deliver a result for the business that the in-house team, for one reason or another, is unable to deliver.
Having a set of clearly defined results at the start of engaging with an agency can really help the focus of what they’re doing. For example, if a result for the business is to increase online enquiries for a service you provide, it might be better to invest in some advertising and a single new landing page, rather than completely re-designing the whole website.
But as well as pure results, maintaining a good relationship with your agency is very important. Any agency worth its salt will have people who are deeply invested in what they do, and are truly passionate about delivering results for their clients. This sounds like a cheesy cliché, but it is absolutely right. Rather than treating the agency as another supplier, I have found that the most effective results go hand-in-hand with the agency gaining a deep understanding about the business, and having an open and honest relationship with their client, based on mutual respect.


Know what you want and what you have to spend

The more information about company background and objectives that can be supplied to an agency, the better! A good agency will be able to get this information from you if it isn’t already written down. For example, we have two primary discovery documents (our ‘disco docs’) that help us gather information at the start.
Knowing what the business has to spend early on really helps, as it will allow the agency focus on what will bring the most value to the business.


Who’s doing what?

Projects can hit the rocks because people don’t understand their role, or over-reach on what they’re meant to be doing and step on someone else’s toes. It is important that people on both the agency- and client-side know what their role is.
We have also found that having a single point of contact with a client works best: someone who has the authority and available time to manage their internal team.


Let the agency do their job

We were recently involved in a project where the deliverables were agreed with the business owner, who then delegated the project management to another staff member. Instead of letting us deliver what had been agreed, this person felt that they had to strictly direct our team. They supplied us with rough designs of pages that we were then to deliver back as completed designs. The person had a fairly good design eye, but had no experience in digital marketing or User Experience (UX) design. This way of working also meant we had skipped the wireframing phase, which is a vital stage in any website’s delivery. The result of this approach meant hours of wasted work and a poor outcome that had to be later sorted out.
Once the deliverables are agreed with your agency, let them do what they should be expert at doing, whilst the business focusses on its own core strengths.


Give negative as well as constructive feedback

Sometimes designs can go through a number of rounds before they get in to shape. When an agency releases visual designs to a client, whether that is visual concepts, logos, webpage designs, etc. even if the client doesn’t like what they’ve done, it is as useful to get negative feedback as positive. Then the agency can address the issues before the next design release to the client.


Expect regular catch ups

Here at SteadyGo, we like to do weekly status calls during project deliveries, and then at least monthly calls with clients whom we are supporting long-term.
Our weekly status calls will cover off what’s been achieved in the previous week, what’s needs to be done in the week to come, and any changes in scope or issues with the project. Having a weekly call means everything moves at a good pace, everyone remains focussed and the healthy relationship is maintained.
Be cautious of agencies who don’t suggest a weekly call during a project delivery. Sometimes there is nothing that needs to be covered, or the call needs moving, but the agency should plan for a weekly call nonetheless.


Expect a project plan – if there isn’t one why?

A project plan will simply layout who is doing what and when. It will also show the end date of a delivery, and give the client an expectation of how much of their staff’s time will be needed. A project plan can also show the impact of making a change part-way through and how that affects the delivery dates.
When a deliverable is very small, a project plan can be as simple as a set of agreed delivery dates. When a project is larger, it should have a project plan. If your agency has not produced a project plan for a deliverable, the client needs to find out why.



In summary

The above points are all facets of the same primary point: that the most effective results from engaging with a digital agency for a business come from a healthy working relationship, where communications are frequent and ongoing, and where both parties feel they can trust each other because they both know what the objectives are, and who is doing what to achieve them.

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