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How To Work Effectively With an Agency: Seven Pointers

AdAge recently posted an article about how McDonalds threw their agencies (Publicis’ Leo Burnett and Omnicom’s DDB) under the bus a little in the wake of continuing slumping sales. McDonalds pointedly denied that any agency was under review, but it is clear that McDonalds believes marketing needs to improve in order for sales to increase.

This is not a new directive if you are in the agency world, but as a CMO, it is important to be more specific than, “You need to do better work.”

AgencyComing from an agency perspective, here seven communication tips to help CMOs work effectively with an agency to achieve better results.

1. Clarify whom you are trying to reach

An agency is not always privy to customer insights and other data your company may have access to. This can make it difficult to make sure your company’s marketing is hitting the mark.

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One criticism McDonalds made of its marketing was that the advertisements did not resonate well with its customer base.  Make sure your agency has access to your sales team, in addition to any information you can offer, so that the entire company’s message remains cohesive.

2. Set and communicate clear objectives

Too often, agencies are left to “figure things out.” Sometimes even a budget figure is hard to attain.

Make sure, as a CMO, that you clearly communicate all objectives to your agency in addition to a target budget. This will not only allow the agency to provide you with tactics that will help you reach those objectives, it will also help the agency measure success throughout the campaign and report to you on a more regular basis.

3. Be the single voice of your company for the agency

Often agencies find themselves in the middle of communication breakdowns that can only be attributed to silos. A sales manager may contact an agency about something that the CMO has no inkling about, and the opposite also often occurs.

In order to work most effectively, an agency needs to have a single contact that speaks for/represents your entire company. Politics only detracts from any potential positive results.

4. Flailing is bad, pivoting is good

McDonalds suggested that one of its problems in 2013 was too many product introductions over too short a period of time. The article from AdAge notes that McDonalds introduced McWraps, blueberry-pomegranate smoothies, egg white McMuffins, and new quarter pounders all between March and July.

This rapid-fire product introduction campaign was intended to boost sales, but clearly what happened instead is that it over-taxed the marketing arm of the company as well as the individual franchises.

Even though decreases in sales figures are incredibly frightening, it is essential to remain calm, especially when communicating the situation and potential fixes to your agency.

5. Communicate obstacles to your agency

Sometimes your company is facing hardships that are obvious to you because you are enmeshed in them. These obstacles may be completely unknown to your agency, however.

In a case where sales are declining, make sure your agency understands the environment in which your company is working and even enlist your agency in trying to address those problems

6. Ask questions instead of making declarations

One of the most common reactions to slumping sales is to cut marketing investment. However, in the long run, decades of research show that when you cut marketing, your company fares more poorly than if you had kept moving forward.

Instead of announcing to your agency that you need to make cuts, ask your agency to think outside the box and offer solutions to the problem at hand. This will let your agency know that you consider them a partner instead of simply a vendor, which is very important to good agency folks.

7. Be specific with your criticisms

A spokeswoman for McDonalds is quoted in the AdAge article as saying, “At McDonalds, we demand a lot from ourselves as marketers and from our agencies to bring the boldest and best ideas and thinking.”

From the agency perspective, hearing criticism like this is infuriating. What about the idea was not considered bold? What made you feel that the work was not up to par with your expectations? Offer clear directives so that your agency can efficiently and effectively improve your marketing content.

There are many other lessons to be learned from the McDonalds reaction to their marketing arm, but these seven tips for working with agencies are some of the most important. I hope it helps!

Marjorie Clayman is VP of Client Services at her family’s full service marketing firm, Clayman Marketing Communications.  

For more from Margie on the Vocus Blog, click here.

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