Full disclosure – seeing as how I work at a family-owned full-service marketing firm, this post could be construed as a bit self-serving. However, I also happen to really believe what I’m about to tell you. For what it’s worth!
There are a lot of commentaries out there about why companies today don’t need to work with an agency. Here are a few that I’ve come upon over the last year or so.
Jason Falls noted that agencies consistently struggle with social media
Jeremiah Owyang posited that social media boutiques are kicking the butts of traditional agencies
Business Insider just published an article noting that the traditional media buying agency is dead (there’s that ole “is dead” again!)
And then of course there are the multitudes of comments I see online. Agencies will swindle you at every turn. Agencies will try to sell you on SEO best practice and end up getting you black listed. Agencies will give you bad advice and then ask you to buy them dinner. Agencies are like the ones presented in the show Mad Men.
Some agencies really are that bad
I have heard people I know and respect tell stories that make me ashamed for all of agency-kind. There are traditional agencies who still insist that social media is a passing fad. There are agencies who don’t think websites are, well, necessary. There are agencies who really do pass on simply awful advice and then ask you to pay through the nose. These are not myths. Most unfortunately.
But this is not also the way every agency works. In fact, if I may put this thought into your head, now more than ever is a time when the “traditional” agency could be of great service, if only companies were open-minded enough to consider the potential benefits of the agency-client relationship.
What can an agency do for you?
There are several reasons why agencies are in fact NOT bad news. I summed up this belief in a post I wrote for Dawn Westerberg awhile back called The Many Headed Employee. Factually, the world of marketing is growing and evolving at a pace that is hard for anyone to keep up with – even if that is your entire raison d’être . People who are running a business need time to do just that – run their businesses. But there is a growing sentiment out there that if you’re a business owner, you need to be able to do everything tied to your business, including marketing. Business owners are feeling the pressure to design their own websites, run their social media marketing initiatives, design their own ads, and so on.
Why do that to yourself?
Let’s get a little more precise.
Problem: Your website is not showing up well in search and you know enough to know that you need to optimize it.
Potential Solutions: This article from Clickz.com delineates three main options you have once you decide you need to optimize your site. You can try the “do it yourself” method, you can hire a black hat SEO agency, or you can try a white label, legitimate SEO agency.
Where an agency can help: Let’s say you opted for solution 3 – going with a high-quality SEO agency. Fair enough. You might think that a traditional agency wouldn’t be needed there. However, if you are working with an agency that has its hands in a lot of your marketing tactics, that agency can help give the SEO agency a more deep and holistic insight into your company. Sometimes the words that perform the best on Google are not the actual words that would help your company the most. An SEO agency can’t always know that and you might not have the time or inclination to interface with them in that kind of detail. An agency can serve as a liaison between your company and the SEO agency so that your website gets optimized in, well, the most optimal way possible.
Problem: Your company needs a new website.
Possible solutions: You could develop your website in-house, learning CSS and DreamWeaver or content management systems in your free time. You could hire a web development firm. The possibilities are almost endless.
How an agency can help: Let’s forget for the moment that many agencies are also capable of designing and implementing websites. What is the argument for an agency assisting you with this rather than you and your team doing everything in-house? Apart from the fact that your agency knows all of the possible places that could drive traffic to your website, and apart from the fact that your agency should already be well-versed in how you want to speak to your existing and potential customers, it is highly advantageous in the business world to have an outside opinion.
Sometimes our businesses are like our kids – we’re so close to them and they seem so perfect and KNOWN to us that we can’t see any problems or flaws. A good agency can take a step back and say, “Yes, that’s the terminology you use within your walls, but how does your customer talk about your products or services? How does the industry define these terms?” Moreover, an agency can approach your website with an already existing knowledge of what types of creative you like. An agency can look at your website and say, “No one is going to know how to navigate this.” An agency can help you make sure you have a viable call-to-action on every page and ways to track other marketing tactics via your web analytics.
Problem: Your Twitter campaign can’t be correlated to any sales.
Possible solutions: You could just quit altogether. You could contact a Twitter expert. You could keep trying the same thing, hoping it will all start to work eventually.
How an agency can help: A well-rounded agency (yes they do exist) can help you look at social media marketing through the lens of a fully integrated marketing initiative. If your Twitter campaign isn’t generating sales, an agency can offer you an outside perspective of why that might be the case. Rather than simply saying that you’re probably just doing something wrong, which a 100% social media consultant may do, an agency can look at who is following you and help you analyze whether those people are likely consumers of your product. An agency can do research to determine if any of your competitors or customers are even on Twitter. More to the point, an agency worth its weight in salt can step back and say, “You know, this doesn’t seem to be working, but here is another solution.”
A good marketing firm can offer you insights into your message, how you are driving people to your website, and what those visitors to your website may experience once they get there. From start to finish, the outside perspective of an agency can help take one facet of your marketing and plug it in to the full puzzle that is stretching out before you.
Just in case you think the agency I am describing here is mythical, I can tell you that our agency – the one I work for – does all of this and more. There are, I’m sure, plenty of agencies who could assist in multitudinous ways that you have not even considered.
So what do you think? Are agencies really bad news, or is it possible that there may be another story here? What has your experience with agencies been? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
PS – this post is the first in the Alphabet of Marketing Myths series, which will publish for the next 25 Mondays. If you want to keep up on this series, feel free to subscribe!
First Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daviderickson/4252172494/ via Creative Commons
Second Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zstasiuk/5650719702/ via Creative Commons