Evaluating an Agency: A checklist

Now that you have selected an agency and started working together, how do you evaluate them and their overall performance.

Of course the most obvious one is their performance and delivery. An agency who does not perform and cannot deliver against set KPI’s would not be around for long. But there are other factors as well to consider.

But Performance does not just mean the achievement of KPI’s, you also have to look at end to end service delivery, or what I have put together as the 3 C’s.

  1. Consistency – or ‘Reliability’
    This refers to how trustworthy the agency is, and not only in their performance but whether they perform well regularly, or is it more unpredictable? There are other factors which can affect performance including the market, targeting, budgets etc. however this factor is purely on the agency.
    – How quick are they to action points?
    – Do they need detailed instructions? or can they be trusted to look after your best interests?
    – Is their performance regular? or do they have moments of peak performance followed by low performance sporadically?An agency should be consistent in their performance and if not it should be backed up by good reason. They should look after their clients interests and not be afraid to disagree or question plans. They should be pro-active to suggest new and innovative ideas and if left to their own devices can deliver results consistently.
  2. Communication – or ‘frequency’
    This refers to how easy and more importantly how often do they communicate with you. Is it just that weekly call to go over reports or is it more frequent where you’ll can discuss new happenings and strategy?
    – Who makes the first step in communicating?
    – Do they communicate only if there is something to report? or do they check in with you more frequently?
    – Do they follow up with you on any action points? os is it you doing the following up?It is vital that the agency communicates frequently and of items of value. They should not hesitate in providing updates, even if it is unsolicited. They should also be easy to get in touch, and get back to you within a reasonable timeframe. That being said, the onus is not only on the agency but also on the client. Communication needs to work both ways. You should keep the agency updated on any new happenings or events within the company, which can affect the strategy or can inspire new ideas. You should be easy to get in touch with and also follow up with the agency and get regular updates. Interest needs to be shown by both parties for effective communication.
  3. Clarity – or  Transparency
    This to me is one of the most important points. One of the most frustrating aspects I face in dealing with agencies is when they are vague in their communications. There is no clear indication given for what they are working on, or how they are working on your account. How is the budget being used and how do they account for the time spent by their executives?
    – Can they explain what they are doing and how they are doing it?
    – Are they vague or give ‘blanket’ explanations such as ‘we are working on it’?
    – Can they justify their actions or the steps taken?It is very important that the agency is honest in their communication. While of course they may be certain trade secrets they do not wish to share or a certain method to their madness, if a client requests for information this should not be withheld or for agencies to act superior in their knowledge. That does not mean that the client is always right either, or that an agency knows better. Both parties have important information and a different style of working so it is important to work together.

So this is just a small checklist of what I believe to be the most important factors (besides performance) in evaluating an agency. Of course no agency is perfect, or will fit all criteria. There will always be some limitations in either size, budgets, or expertise, but this should give you a general idea on what to look out for in a good agency.

Do you have any other items to add to the list? Or what is your evaluation criteria?

How to choose the ‘right’ digital agency

Choosing a suitable agency can be a highly daunting task. There are a multitude of qualified agencies all promising to be the best in their respective fields; how do you find these agencies? do you choose a full service agency or a more specialized one? I’ve put together a few tips from my experience of trying to find a good agency.

  1. Full – Service or Specialized?
    Firstly, it all depends on what’s the reason for getting an agency. Is it to handle all digital services or for a specific activity such as social media, search marketing etc. If it is for all digital services, then a full serviced agency would be more beneficial. This is not only because they have a wide variety of skills which could benefit the company, the more investment larger agencies receive, the better discounts and services they will provide. If you are looking for a specialized service then usually smaller boutique agencies are preferable. This is because they are more focused on a specific activity and can provide dedicated services, for a smaller budget.
  2. Local or International?
    If the target market is located within the UAE, then a local agency would be essential, but what if the market is global or in another country? Is it better to have one agency handle all markets or find a local agency within that market. Again this is dependent on the overall business strategy of the company. Most agencies find it more cost effective to go with one global multinational agency who have localized agencies in other countries, it makes it easier to deal with and they provide an integrated strategy, but if it is only one or two other markets then perhaps it is better to invest with a local agency there.
  3. Locating Agencies
    The next step would be putting together a list of agencies based on your requirements. Ideally the best place is to look for them is on Google (and being digital agencies I would expect them to have a strong presence online). Full serviced agencies can be found by looking for ‘digital agencies’ or ‘digital marketing agencies’. It is important to keep in mind that most traditional brand / creative / media buying agencies have also entered this space and offer complete digital services, so you can find agencies using those search terms as well. In the search results (SERPs), you can find out more about about each agency through their meta title, or their PPC results. In each of the ads, agencies specify if they specialize in a particular activity such as ‘SEO’ or they are complete ‘digital marketing’ agencies. I also prefer using third party sites such as: https://digitalagencynetwork.com/agencies/ or using organizations such as eConsultancy and their preferred lists which provide recommendations.
    It is important to consider the location of these agencies.
  4. Selecting & Shortlisting Agencies
    Once an agency list has been created, it is important to narrow them down. This is one of the more daunting tasks that need to be done. It is important to look for the following: Clients, Experience, Awards, Case Studies.
    Most agencies will have a client list on their site, but it is important to understand what work has been done for their clients. If they work on social, then check out the social pages and see how they are being managed, if they are handling search, review their SEO or check out their PPC ads to see how they are set up. Most agencies also have multiple case studies to support their claims. But it is not enough to say what work is being done but what are the results that have been achieved. Finally, it is also useful to look at what awards (if any) have been won by the agency and for any specific work.
  5. Deciding on the agency
    Once a shortlist has been put together the next stage would be to either send a Request for Proposal (RFP) or ask them to send across a proposal based on your needs. An RFP is a structured document with a list of requirements, however it is also possible to contact them and ask for a proposal. It is up to your discretion to provide a budget for the activity or not. In most cases businesses are not sure what the budget should be, so they ask the agency to advise which is quite normal, however it is important to consider how the agency costs. Is it a percentage of media spend or a flat fee, this would affect how much is taken by the agency and what’s left for the actual spend, so the final decision would be based on overall budget.

Is there anything else to consider, that I may have missed out?

Marketing: In-house vs Outsourcing? Finding the Balance

When it comes to marketing does it make sense to have in-house talent or would it be better to outsource to a specialized agency?

Most companies fall somewhere in the middle of this broad spectrum, where in-house marketing strategy is supported by agency execution, of course this also depends on the type of marketing activity which is being performed.

Most Brand marketing, is usually done in-house, where agencies are used to support specific tasks such as creative concepts and execution for a marketing campaign. Campaigns can be short or long term, with multiple agencies working on a similar project.

For Digital marketing, decisions have to be made on an activity level as different channels need varying levels of expertise. The decision is also dependent on the number of projects or brands that need to be worked on. Digital Marketing channels include:

  • Social Media
    This is the most common and ‘go to’ channel for digital needs, however there are a lot of factors to consider before deciding to outsource. Firstly social media takes a lot of time to manage, develop and engage. Many businesses choose to employ a dedicated executive to handle social media accounts especially if there are multiple channels, multiple brands, or the company is involved in a lot of events and live activations. Having an in-house resource means they are more familiar with the brand, the target market and language style to ensure a seamless experiences across other advertising channels. However outsourcing to an agency has its own merits. Agencies have more experience but care has to be taken they don’t do similar work with competitors, agencies also charge by the number of channels they need to manage, how often they post and the number of events they are expected to cover. Also social posting needs someone who can create a brand story, and most agencies are not well connected to the brand or to the target market to understand their needs and what they respond do. Of course this is not to say that agencies cannot do a good job, they can as long as there is a good understanding. So this decision needs to be made on a business level and looking at the cost / benefits of either option. If the business has the resource then social is an activity which should be kept in house and close to the brand.
  • Paid Media
    This activity refers to digital advertising across multiple channels such as social, Google Adwords, Display etc. Media buying is usually an agency led activity. There are a few businesses who do it in-house, but this is dependent on the the number of products or the overall size of the business. If it is a small company with one or two products it is relatively easy to manage this activity in house either by a marketing exec or direct by business owner; however if this is on a larger scale, then it is more profitable to outsource this to an agency. Most agencies work on operating margins, therefore while they conduct media buying they can work across multiple accounts to get better deals. Advertising optimization is also a time consuming and specialized activity which requires professionals with experience or managing campaigns can be an expensive affair. They are also more in tune with the different ad formats available and which would best for the media activity. But most agencies usually charge either a minimum spend or % of overall media spend which may work out better depending on the number of campaigns that are being run. Possibly one solution to this is to let agencies manage the media buying and optimizing while having in house expertise to manage the campaign strategy, channel selection and overall plan.
  • Organic Search
    A highly specialized and often technical activity, organic search is a long term investment and requires a high level of expertise and connections with media and bloggers for link building, and an understanding of website architecture to review technical SEO. Most businesses outsource this to agencies, who work on a retainer basis and conduct a set amount of optimization activity per month. However it is strongly recommended to have in-house SEO expertise who can set SEO strategy according to overall business strategy, cater to business objectives and review agency activity.

There is no easy decision when it comes to in-house vs. outsourcing of marketing activity, the best option is to review the below factors before making a decisions:

  1. Size of Business / Level of Activity
  2. Cost & Marketing Budgets
  3. Digital Expertise required

While there is no ‘one’ overall solution digital marketing requires a combination of in-house brand management and digital know how combined with the execution expertise, industry experience and media buying power of agencies. Usually a merger of experts from both sides of the business proves to be overall beneficial for the business; it’s all about finding the right balance.

So, how does it work in your company?

 

 

WhatsApp Status Updates – Marketing Opportunity?

So unless you’re living in the stone age you would have noticed that WhatsApp’s latest version includes new status updates which look eerily similar to Snapchat or Instastories. Now I have no intention of discussing the strategy of the move, however I am more curious to look at its adoption and overall use to marketers as a potential new social media channel.

  • Viewability / Privacy
    The first aspect to note is that WhatsApp updates can only be seen by your WhatsApp contacts (with the option of turning on privacy) in comparison to Instastories or Snapchat which open to all your followers, therefore WhatsApp updates has a much smaller and niece audience when compared to other channels which operates on a larger more public domain.

 

  • Adoption
    I have been following how many of my whatsapp contacts have been posting status updates lately and overall the rate of adoption seems to be a lot less compared to when Instastories was launched. This could be because of several reasons, firstly how many channels are people expected to update? Secondly these updates are so similar to other channels it does not offer a unique advantage to cause a change in posting behavior, third the audience has some overlap as most people’s friends are already on Instagram and are familiar with the way it works. But in saying that, WhatsApp is one of the most popular apps for communication so watch this space, as overall adoption may increase.

So as marketers what can we do to maximize the use of this feature?

  1. WhatsApp in Marketing
    WhatsApp on its own is not a new channel for marketers. They have used it to message their most loyal customers, create groups based on personas, or send broadcasts to multiple marketing lists. But usually each of these methods has limitations in the number of people that can be messaged, the level of engagement and the risk of spamming your customers. The new status updates provide a good solution where the updates can be viewed voluntarily so there’s high engagement, and reduces the risk of spam. All your contacts can also view the message so there is no limit on the number of views.
  2. Status Content
    As the people who will be viewing the updates will most likely be loyal customers, the type of content used in will not be mass market or for general brand awareness, instead content can be used to encourage or reward loyalty through special offers, sneak peaks at new products or send invites to exclusive events. Content will also depend on the brand objective. As messages will be more targeted and personalised, WhatsApp status updates can be used to assist with direct sales objectives as well as brand engagement and loyalty.
  3. PR
    Status Updates can also be used as part of overall PR strategy. It can be used to invite media to exclusive events and product launches, provide sneak peaks at new product developments, and encourage and excite media about new brand developments. This would assist with media engagement as well as overall brand coverage.

Overall WhatsApp Status Updates are fairly new and will surely develop over time. I would watch this space to look out for further developments especially if there will be any analytics attached to it. This would certainly be a game changer resulting in more marketers using this as a potential advertising channel.

Do you have any other ideas on how WhatsApp Status updates can be used?

 

The Re-purposing of UGC

One of the buzzwords that you usually hear a lot especially within social media circles is the acronym ‘UGC’. Most marketers would be quite aware of UGC but I still find that most people don’t really know what to do with it, or how to maximize it. So the below is a little bit to help you out.

What is UGC?

UGC stands for User Generated Content, which basically refers to any content put out there on the vast internet about you and your brand. It can range from tweets to Instagram posts, reviews, or even a mention on a blog. UGC is basically as the name says content produced by the users or aspirational users of the brand, in any stage of the consumption process – dreaming, using, or reviewing.

Where do we get it?

UGC can be obtained from several sources:

  • Social Media – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook
  • Blogs
  • Review Sites – Trip Advisor, Zomato, Yelp etc.
  • Reviews – Google & Facebook reviews
  • Emails
  • Surveys & Feedback cards
  • And even if you think outside the box good old traditional offline sources such as handwritten notes

Out of all these sources, UGC is still most commonly associated with Social Media and especially Instagram. As all good content marketers know visual content works much better than text only and is more engaging and effective. Therefore having a large amount of visual content is useful but is it is also the most difficult to obtain, hence a large bank of visual UGC content is always beneficial.

Why is UGC good?

UGC is great for several reasons:

  1. Endorsement – Isn’t it always better having normal regular customers say how great your product is than you doing it?
  2. Credibility – It adds credibility to your brand when your customers say your product does actually what is supposed to do.
  3. Feedback – It is a great source of feedback on how your customers liked the product, if there were any problems, and how it can be improved.
  4. Market Research – By following who is talking about your brand, you can find new uses for your product or even find new markets you were not aware of.
  5. Brand Popularity – By tracking how often your product is mentioned you can get a better idea of how popular your product is and this can be tracked against competitors as well.
  6. New Content – UGC is a great source of new content. Brands invest a lot of time, effort and even money to generate new content which is not always feasible in the long run, therefore UGC is a good alternative source of content which is also free.
  7. Better Engagement – Showcasing real world uses and interactions leads to better engagement from other customers and aspirational users.

 

What do we do with it?

UGC acts as a good source of new content. Rather than a brand always talking about their products, it is always good to post about how users are consuming or interacting with the brand. The content is real than produced and inspires and motivates other consumers leading to better engagement when posted across social channels. The content can be shared or re-posted from their original sources as well as it can be re-purposed for other channels.

Examples include: Creating a video of Instagram posts which can be promoted on Facebook (with permissions of course); Showing Trip Advisor reviews on offer content to encourage positive sentiment; etc.

By showcasing good reviews and good feedback, consumption of the product can also increase which is beneficial for the brand in the long run.

How can you get more?

So if UGC is so great, how can marketers produce more? There are a couple of ways to do that:

  1. Competitions – This is the easiest and most efficient way of generating content. Competitions can be run across social channels where users can be asked to submit visual entries (either images or videos) of people interacting with the brand. The winner can receive complimentary samples, access etc as dependent on the product, but for a relatively small cost a large amount of content can be generated which can be used at a later stage.
  2. Asking Questions / Submissions – Sometimes if you have a strong or loyal brand following, a competition is not necessary, users would be more than happy to tell or show you how they use your product by just asking them. Your customers like to feel appreciated and that their feedback and opinions matter, so they would be happy to share with you their love and admiration for the brand.
  3. Complimentary Trials – If the product is relatively new or you don’t have a large following then you can offer complimentary trials to future users to encourage the generation of more UGC and to gain feedback. This can help promote the product especially when they see others using it.
  4. Events & Activations – Hosting or creating events which is open to the people is another great way of having people directly interact with the brand. When they see an activation taking place or are at the event, most people will generally share their experiences on social media. This combined with a competition makes it more effective.
  5. PR & Media – Having a strong PR strategy is also beneficial to the brand. Through it, greater brand awareness can be achieved via media mentions, blog postings, and social media coverage through press teams and bloggers. Each of these mentions can be connected to a potential story and therefore greater UGC.
  6. Influencers – As highlighted in my previous post ‘Battle of the Influencers‘ influencers are a great way to increasing brand awareness as they act as brand ambassadors. Most influencers will generate a minimum number of posts as part of their agreement which is guaranteed UGC. This content will also be of high quality and will have greater engagement, especially if the the influencer is well known, resulting in greater popularity of the brand.
  7. Media Monitoring – This is the most basic and essential step every marketer must do, that is to set up a media monitoring service which picks up any mention of the brand online. You can choose to monitor on social channels or on media, blogs etc. of course it is better to have both. By having media monitoring in place mentions of the brand can be picked up from the most least expected sources. While most companies have a budget associated for this service which can be used for specialized software the other option for firms with limited budget is to invest in setting up Google Alerts which still does quite a good job.

So overall UGC is a great asset to have and can be quite successful with minimal effort and time.

Do you have any other tips or stories to share?

 

 

Social Media – PR or Marketing?

Social Media has traditionally been the forte of a digital marketer, but lately there is a growing trend of this channel being handled by the PR department instead of marketing. Social Media in essence is a digital communication tool and is one of the most important channels in the arsenal of a digital marketer. It is used for most marketing objectives, from brand awareness to advertising and sales and forms a big part of a consumer’s attribution journey while driving traffic to the website, but it is also a communication tool which is usually handled by PR. So while both have very good reasons how would a company decide what their direction should be?

First let’s have a look on how PR has changed of recent:
Public Relations has always been viewed in two extremes, a lot of ‘media relations’ and socializing with the other extreme of lots of writing of press releases and their distribution. But in the last few years PR has changed quite drastically and has earned its place at the digital table. About a few years ago, as more people turned to online sources and social media as a source for their news (if it’s not on Twitter it didn’t happen), PR professionals realized that a press release just wont cut it any more. Even if there’s huge brand power behind it, in today’s overly cluttered world of content creation traditional media sources were just not effective in distributing news and building relations. So PR has had to adapt and change and like marketing has shifted to digital to stay relevant. So let’s look at these changes and why as digital marketers we should pay attention to them.

The death of the press release.
No one reads press releases any more. Yes it’s still done because its a corporate statement and needs to be sent to media and published online, but the bottom line is no one reads them. PR has had to change their strategy by changing the way they create and distribute content. Instead of releases they started focusing on stories (sound familiar?) which was then distributed on social media channels by marketing. Content for these stories was usually sourced from consumer & employee experiences and their reviews (UGC). PR started relying more on social media for their content as well as for distribution which meant working closely with marketing. To do this they also had to adapt their overall tone of voice from corporate to social. Tone of voice and language is usually set by Brand marketing which is a big change for PR and to measure the success of PR activities, most have subscribed to a media monitoring service which picks up brand mentions online & offline on media channels. But as more stories are being published on social, traditional media monitoring is only half the story. Any good social media marketer would also have a social media monitoring service set up which can be shared with PR. So you would have two teams trying to come up with original story content to share, relying on similar sources and doubling the expense on monitoring services.

Bloggers & Influencers – the new media
Besides relying on traditional media sources such as magazines and newspapers, PR have turned to sourcing bloggers and social media influencers to also promote the brand. At various media events nearly 25% to even 50% of attendees are prominent bloggers and influencers who are encouraged to actively tweet, instagram and create live content while hastagging and tagging the brand channels.  This comes at a cost where PR can no longer control the actual content, the style in which it is written and the exact terminology but this is how social media works where content is not scripted but natural. Through this PR usually contribute and support overall digital marketing growth and engagement. This has also resulted in a shift in PR audience from media to actual consumers. Usually PR undergo training on how to talk to media. They also train other employees and colleagues on do’s and don’ts and how to speak to media and answer questions. But as marketers we deal directly with end consumers and we never receive such training, which is unusual as consumers are the final decision makers and therefore anyone dealing with them should be taught how, just as anyone in customer service undergoes a certain level of training as well. Instead many social media channels are handled by junior staff or outsourced to agencies who are not familiar with the brand and overall style which is not ideal to overall brand management.

So in the end between PR & Marketing who should actually manage social media?
The answer is both. PR have the experience, the knowhow and the ability to write and create content. They are trained on how to talk to consumers and media and spend considerable time sourcing and dealing with bloggers and influencers. They should be responsible for content creation and community management, but of course with support from marketing. Based on events, offers and overall end goals, marketing can suggest and recommend content and broad topics which PR can then use and work towards. But it will still be the responsibility of marketing to manage KPI’s, drive traffic and fulfill digital marketing strategy. It would be marketing who would advertise on social media and plan campaigns, suggest which posts would be promoted and the targeting of these.

So in conclusion PR & Marketing would handle different aspects of social media and would have to work together to fulfill overall business objectives.

How does it work in your company?