How to set up for success when working with a new digital agency

Shyam Mitra, Performance Marketing Specialist

Working with a new agency is exciting as it introduces your marketing campaign to new ideas and energy. But it can go wrong if you approach it in a rush – wasting your time and money. So before you go live with a new partner, make sure you have these 5 points in order.

Understanding Business Objectives and turning them into appropriate advertising KPIs

You need to understand what it is your business needs to achieve. These are big, macro objectives such as revenue or profit growth, market share, share price, or perhaps something like a total of new customers if you are a newer brand looking for proof of concept.

These objectives sometimes fit nicely into marketing objectives (such as acquiring a number of new customers). Other times you need to translate them into an objective that shows Marketing’s contribution to the business goal. For example, Marketing cannot fully ‘own’ a business’ ability to grow profit, but it can try to grow revenue as efficiently as possible.

Often these marketing objectives can flow directly through to what your advertising needs to achieve and you can set appropriate targets backed by relevant KPIs. At this point, it is important to think as long term as possible, as an agency’s media plan will differ greatly if a marketing objective is to, say, reach 5,000 customers in 6 months, compared to 20,000 within a year.

When you know your advertising KPIs, benchmark your historical performance and set realistic targets for each KPI in the future. Clearly, targets need to be set with respect to what is a financially sustainable figure but understand the logic behind how you have arrived at this target. Is it based on experience or data? Or is it guesswork or hoping to meet promises made to investors? 

Don’t just rely on an agency to give you expectations of KPI performance. While they will have data to suggest a figure, every brand is different and performance will vary. Also, some agencies will promise an impressive figure to get you onboard – but knowing full well it is unlikely to be hit. You’ll then find yourself looking for a new agency pretty quickly.

Understanding your weaknesses

Knowing what you want from an agency is clearly a point to discern before starting any activity with one. But it is vital to understand the specific area (whether it be a skill or knowledge gap or a resource issue) as you assess your shortlist of agencies. Then, in identifying this area/areas, you can clearly dictate what you need from them, giving the agency an understanding of how they can best manage your account so they can dedicate the right level and type of resource to you. 

Secondly, it is important to put some trust in the agency to use their expertise and knowledge to fill the skill gap. To get the most value from your agency, give them the freedom to implement new ideas. But to make sure they don’t do something that could harm your brand, make sure there are clear boundaries and guidelines in place. 

You are entitled to (and should) ask for a comprehensive performance report each week, detailing what has been happening on the campaign and should press the agency to explain some of their decisions, as their insight and decisions can be used as learnings in the future, even when the partnership has concluded.


Agreeing on the creative process

If your agency produces ad creative, you need to agree on the required output and SLAs before launch. Additionally, brand guidelines are vital to agree upon before launch. Understanding these will form the base for all creative and copy decisions throughout the campaign. In having firm guidelines, you will first define your brand creatively and create a visual appeal that will drive results and, secondly, save a considerable amount of time for iterating on creative with designers (in-house or within an agency).

A second element to having strong brand guidelines is knowing your product and why you feel it should be the consumer’s choice. While an agency can provide additional insight into the lay of the current market and what may resonate better with customers, the fundamental selling points of your product should be clearly communicated with them. This will align both parties on message, which will feed into new copy and creative produced and promote your product in the most effective manner.

If your agency isn’t going to produce your creative, they need to be brought into the creative briefing discussion. They can advise on the frequency, formats, and style of your creative design with their understanding of how your audience interacts on different media channels and guide the discussion on a creative testing plan.


Collaborate like an agency is your partner, not a supplier

Share as much as possible with your agency to foster a healthy long-term relationship.  Through trial and improvement and structured testing, there are so many learnings gathered either by previous agencies or internally that would be beneficial for a new agency. This avoids repeating any previous errors and significantly advances campaign strategy and performance by starting from a much more advantageous position. Ensure any tests that an agency conducts are documented correctly and shared for future reference.

An agency should be able to be trusted with your business data so they can make better decisions. What is happening in marketing channels, they are not managing? What are the costs involved elsewhere that impact profitability?

Similarly, keep your agency abreast of company plans and brief them well in advance – for example, new market expansions or product launches.


Resolve your tracking

Tracking is vital to get right as this is ultimately how you measure success! However, this is sometimes easier said than done. Firstly, ensure that you are able to gather all the necessary data and track users across their journey to conversion. Then, implement pixels at each stage or use an SDK for App activity. The more data, the better when it comes to optimising campaigns, and it will definitely help your campaigns to have more data points to optimise towards. 

While using the correct attribution method is a whole different article, if you are advertising across several channels, with multiple agencies or in house, you must ensure that each channel is being valued correctly and is attributed its fair share of credit. Understanding your customer’s path to conversion across channels and also the impact of channels on one another is essential to this. If this is unknown, it is definitely worth testing when starting with a new agency, for example, running increased paid social brand activity and measuring the organic uplift.

Before flipping the switch on campaigns with an agency for the first time, run some tests to ensure that the tracking is working as it should. This sounds basic, but it is a common error and leads to wasted spend and delays in launches which is undesirable for all parties.

Ultimately, we have to look to the future. It is worth planning for and investing in server to server and conversions API tracking with pixel tracking devalued year-on-year by major publishers. Consequently, with the iOS14 update and the cookie soon to be deprecated, conventional tracking faces a huge challenge that will limit measurement granularity. This will make it harder not only to optimise but also to see where performance is coming from and so future-proofing your media campaigns will pay dividends in the long run.


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