Friday, September 25, 2009

Hiring a Digital Agency

Hiring (and firing) an agency goes with the territory for brand marketers. But what was once a multi-year (or longer) relationship between the brand client and their agency has become much more fluid. Whether you're talking about bringing in a new agency of record or adding another player to your agency mix, brand-side clients are always evaluating agency talent, and the fast pace of digital means that brands will likely have to sign on the dotted line with greater frequency.

There are a number of places to start when hiring a new agency, start by asking, "Why do we need a new agency?" Maybe you've inherited them and you just can't work together -- you've tried, but it's a chemistry thing.

Why do we need a new agency? -- will always lead to some rather profound insights, if the brand can be honest about its own corporate culture as well as what's gone right (and wrong) with the relationship at hand. While that may sound like simple advice, it's a pill not easily swallowed by many clients.

Broadly speaking, ask yourself if your company culture supports the changes the agency is trying to make? Examine your relationship to see if it allows for shared risk. Is the agency forced to stay inside a box or are they given some freedom?

Those answers may not always be available because in some cases, the relationship may have become so bad that it's nearly impossible to see the forest through the trees. Take the time to reflect on your own corporate culture and how it interplayed with their previous agency stand a much better chance of getting it right with their next hire.

Beware of the specialist search
Scan the tech blogs and you'll quickly see that digital creates new communication channels faster than advertisers can figure out how to use them. But CMOs who want to integrate their media strategy face a difficult dilemma: Do you opt for a "specialist" agency -- a social media shop, for example -- to work in a highly technical area, or do you hire one agency that can bring it all together at the risk of sacrificing some key knowledge in an emerging area?

The answer depends more on your own organization's strength and weaknesses than anything else. It's all about orchestration, if you have the time and staff to orchestrate across multiple specialists, then you have the option to spread the love. If you're like most organizations, however, and you're short-staffed and time-crunched, then you should find and assign a lead agency and have them sub-contract for the specialists.

If you have a lead agency responsible for bringing holistic thinking, then they will have the responsibility to be constantly searching for specialists and providing you with thought leadership and success.

Restless can be a winner
No matter how exhaustive your hiring process is, you will always face the same problem: All agencies look great before you hire them.

They always put their best foot forward when you're looking at a new agency. A lot of times you're looking at their work, and maybe it wasn't all their original idea, but they executed on it. Or maybe they had the big idea, but some other agency put it in action -- no agency is ever going to tell you exactly what they did. So, there's always some mystery there.

It's not about what the agency did to get in the room with him -- that's all prelude. In a nutshell, he says, he's always on the lookout for a "restless" agency. It's really about doing great work, but having that mindset to say, okay we hit all of our goals, but how could we have done it better? That's the kind of restlessness you want from your agency.

Find an agency that experiment
It is important that the agency is adding expertise. There's always something new, something that's experimental, and it is important that the agency is keeping up with the times. That's critical, and experimentation is a sign of a good agency.

Look for existing partnerships
For better or worse, most brands use a mix of agencies these days. But whether those agencies work together or fight each other tooth and nail for a larger share of the client's business often depends on two factors.

First, it's up to the client to set the tone for cooperation, and while some brands prefer in-fighting among their agencies, most at least say that they want team work.
My experience on both the client and agency sides shows that regardless of whether the agencies work together; there will always be a level of competition going on.

You need to communicate the ground rules before, during, and after the contracts are signed -- what the rules of engagement will be. If you don't want to see or hear the campaigning, then you need to let them know that and chastise their senior management when they do.

But ground rules will only take you so far, and if you haven't hired an agency that knows how to play well with others, you're going to be in for bumpy ride, which means that even before you set the ground rules, you have to seek out the right kind of agency partner.

If a firm already has existing strategic partnerships, this bodes well for them being willing to share the sandbox with others. A smart agency realizes they can't be the best in every area, and a focused agency will usually want to work on that which they know they can produce superior results.

Chemistry counts, but chemists aren't needed
Nearly all great teams have some level of chemistry. But whether you're talking about the chemistry between your staff and your agency, or the relationship between your various agencies, it is possible to go overboard. And in fact, some CMOs tend to focus too much on chemistry.

Chemistry is probably [the] No. 1 [thing a CMO should look for in an agency. You've got to be able to work together. But don't let a personality glitch blind you to the attributes of an agency if you'll never have to work with that person.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When Agencies Should Defend In a Review

Understand the average: Your agency has a 95% chance of losing a review.

When to participate?

• Mandated reviews (e.g. government contracts; rules set by procurement or purchasing departments).
• Roster reviews.
• Agency consolidation reviews.
• When you have very strong, deep relationships and the results to back them up (and there's been no change in management).

When not to participate?

• When there are serious concerns (from either side) about the agency relationship or business performance.
• Management changes, particularly when you know that the incoming leadership has successfully worked with other agencies.
• Announcement of an unscheduled review.
• Announcement of a non-roster review.

Like the emotion of wanting to get even, defend yourself, or inflict equivalent harm that you might feel when thinking about sueing someone, it's easy to get caught up in the emotion of wanting to fight and "spend whatever it takes" to keep your hard-won or long-tenured client. However, the smart new business decision may well be to spend the money winning a new piece of business.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Optimizing Your Facebook Initiatives

Traditional search marketing holds that there are two ways to get search engine traffic. The first is to pay for it via pay-per-click advertising, and the second is to earn the traffic with optimal search engine placement. In the earned search marketing business of search engine optimization (SEO), a Facebook fan page is merely a web page, just like any other, except that it has the built-in benefit of residing on a very powerful domain. The same goes for YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Smart optimization, combined with the strong domains that house them, can propel your social media pages to the top of search engine results for relevant searches.

With that in mind, here are tips for optimizing your Facebook initiatives, as well as some brands that are getting it right.

Quick tips for optimization:

Provide regular updates. Like most social media, a Facebook page is only as good as the content available for fans to interact with. Generally speaking, the more digital assets (videos, photos, etc.) the better. Provide regular updates (at least daily and preferably more, though this will depend on your niche) that encourage user participation. Respond to user feedback. To keep from falling behind, consider creating a calendar of updates at the beginning of each week or month.

Choose a good name for the page. The name of your Facebook page is arguably the most important early decision you will make because this is the very first thing the search engines will see when they visit your page. At the very least, you should include the name of the business. You might also include targeted keywords if appropriate.

Choose a good username. A username allows you to have a "clean" URL. For example, if you choose "dwaynejohnsonrocks" as your username, your page URL will be "" These URLs look nicer on business cards and letterhead, and they are easier to remember.

Vanity URLs, as they are called, also provide an opportunity for further optimization with your business name or a selected keyword. Given the choice between the two, the business name will be more appropriate in most cases.

Take advantage of the "about" box. The "about" box is a great place to include relevant content and keyword-rich descriptions. This is one of the only places on a page's "wall" that allows for fully customized copy to be written. Many pages use this space to simply provide a link back to the corporate website or place their tagline, but it is an ideal place to help the search engines understand more about your page.

Customize your page. Facebook allows for a moderate amount of customization. You can't change backgrounds or otherwise skin the page, but you can completely customize other things. For example, you have a large degree of control over how your tabs appear. In addition to adding unique content inside "boxes," you can frame a page hosted elsewhere, which allows for full control over the look and feel of that particular tab (within the confines of the Facebook page that surrounds it, of course).

A customized page immediately communicates credibility to the user and also shows a commitment to your brand's involvement with not only Facebook but also social media as a whole.

Who did it great
The online T-shirt company Threadless has been active in social media since its inception. Its business model of printing user-submitted and user-voted designs requires an environment that encourages feedback and user interaction.