Are You in a Healthy Relationship with Your Agency?

by . Strange

Any business relationship can be tricky to manage. When you add in the multitude of highly complex moving parts that go into digital marketing, these client-agency relationships can be even more challenging.

If you’re a small- or medium-sized business, you’re probably more reliant on agencies than internal teams for your digital marketing performance. But in this relatively new, dynamic and fast-changing space, do you really know what a “good” relationship is supposed to look like? Do you know what your expectations and demands should be?

Since we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary as a digital marketing agency (making us one of the longest established in the South of England) we’re sharing what we’ve learned over the past two decades. We hope it helps you find a relationship that works for you.

Understanding and support

We believe that understanding is the basis of a successful relationship. Your agency should therefore be using the same KPIs and commercial metrics that you use, rather than just CPC, CTR, etc. They should be speaking your business language.

The agency team working with you on a day-to-day basis should, of course, have the right mix of skills for your needs, but you should also have access to their best brains as and when you need it. It’s not unrealistic to expect the agency to be proactive and to show high levels of commitment to your brand and campaigns.

If you’re dealing with a new agency that’s not familiar with your business or industry, make sure they’re taking the right steps to develop expertise and become knowledgeable. And similarly, when touting for your business, be wary of those that take a cookie-cutter approach, rather invest in the process with tailored analysis.

Taking a view on whether an agency is hitting targets or not is relatively straightforward. But have you got the targets right? Do you have a data model that combines data from your digital footprint (analytics, source systems, engines, etc) that you can use to plan various scenarios?

Smooth running

Flexibility is crucial. Your agency not only needs to be able to make changes quickly, but also to think through the implications of those changes to keep everything running smoothly.

If your agency is running a Disciplined Operating Model, they should be producing a routinely solid performance and prevent avoidable mistakes. It may also pay to look closely at the automation techniques they’re using to cut down on time-consuming, low-value tasks.

Search engines and platforms are constantly changing. In 2019 alone, Google made 78 product update announcements. This means an over-reliance on third-party tools like Marin, Kenshoo and Doubleclick can become very inefficient because they don’t always have access to the latest innovations.

You should also demand a structured approach to testing new engine features. And you should be given recommendations for new channels.

Expect custom reporting on a timescale that suits you, whether monthly, weekly or 24/7. Dashboards and reports should be meaningful and helpful, consolidating data from various sources and allow you to syndicate key performance data across your organisation without rework.


If you’re paying a percentage of your media budget for management and optimisation, it could effectively be a tax on your growth. For fee-based work you not only need to be happy with the hours you’re getting but also with how well those hours are accounted for.

Strange will be exploring these and other ways to get more from your agency at the Digital Marketing Summit on 30 January.