Why your company needs a single point of contact for an agency


Last updated on January 3, 2018 in Business, Hiring a marketing provider

Running a marketing (or any) organization at a company is a big job. I’ve done it, and looking back on those years it was one of the toughest times in my career yet also one of the times that I learned the most.

One of the lessons I learned across those two years as well as the past 2.5 years running Credo is around how to set yourself and your organization up for success when you don’t have unlimited headcount to hire, but still need more hands on deck to accomplish all of the initiatives for which you and your team are responsible.

This post is meant for those who are running marketing organizations at companies with a marketing team. Solo business owners or those with companies without a marketer/marketing organization face very different challenges and have very different needs in a marketing provider than businesses with a certain amount of scale. In order to do this topic justice, I am focusing on businesses with a marketing leader and at least a shell (2-3) of a marketing team.

Here is one of the biggest lessons I have learned (I’m speaking to you, marketing leader):

If you’re hiring a marketing agency or consultant to work with, you need figure out if you need strategy or services and then give the agency one experienced point of contact internally that is not you and who understands the specific channel.

Let’s unpack this statement.

Strategy or services

I mostly work as a technical SEO strategist with my clients, and many of the SEO consultants and agencies on Credo are also more focused on strategy than services. I will also say that most of the PPC and Facebook Ads focus on both strategy and services, meaning they can help you build your efforts from scratch and then manage your spend for you. This is much more common in paid acquisition than SEO, though there are SEO agencies who will also execute on the work for you (especially for content and links).

Strategy means that they help you put together the right strategies and head in the right direction with your marketing efforts. This often involves auditing and doing competitor research, and in SEO most will also do keyword research or give you the topics (and maybe titles) that you should create content around in order to rank. But the key point is that we’re not writing the content or writing code to implement technical changes that have been recommended.

Services means that the agency/consultant you are hiring is actually doing the work for you. Smaller marketing teams may need this for specific tasks, such as design if there is no designer assigned to marketing or content creation if all you have internally is a content marketing manager who does not actually create content.

We wrote about this here – What does an agency or consultant actually do?

If you are not sure if you need someone to help you with strategy or to actually execute on work for you, then you’d be wise to hire an expert to help you determine that. Often people do not get beyond “We need an agency” and figure out what type of agency you need. You can hire a coach to help you out, and we offer this as a premium service here at Credo called the Porter Service.

Once you’ve figured out what kind of work you need and whether a consultant or agency is right for you, you need to make sure you are setting yourself and your team up for success.

Give them one experienced point of contact internally

As someone who worked for agencies for 4 years and has worked as a solo consultant off and on for the last two as well, I can tell you without a doubt that the main reason digital marketing projects fail when working with a consultant or agency is because communication falters and no one on your side (the client side) owns the communication and getting things done internally.

I’ve worked with clients for years now. The times that a project went south or they didn’t see the results they wanted, it has always come down to one of a few things:

  1. The point of contact at the company changed,
  2. The point of contact at the company was not able to get things done,
  3. The company expected me to deliver the work and make changes, as opposed to giving recommendations and strategy based off audits.

I’ve had clients where I’ve had a different point of contact every 3-4 months, often because the point of contact was either not qualified to be leading that channel or they left the company. The second one happens all the time within companies, because senior people (especially in the tech world) can be lured away by a higher salary and a better title. I and most agencies/consultants do try to control for this by asking who the main point of contact will be, but this only goes so far.

If you want the relationship with your agency or consultant to succeed, you need to give them one experienced point of contact.

I did a very unscientific survey on Twitter and found this:

One because reporting to multiple people for different things means that communication can break down more easily and thus things move slower as a result. Also, if you have two equal people wanting to claim ownership you may run into political issues internally. It’s better to have one person who owns the relationship and who can then work with others internally to get things done.

Experienced because a junior person often is not able to understand the full strategy or what it takes to get things done internally at your company. Every company is different of course, but an experienced person who is comfortable navigating internal politics and has buy-in from you (the marketing leader) is going to be much more effective. The agency should of course be seeking to do everything they can to make the point of contact successful, but they cannot do all the work.

Internally because your business needs someone who understands your company inside and out if you are going to get the best work and results from an external vendor. I’ve seen situations where a company will hire a marketing agency to do SEO or paid acquisition for them, but then the marketing agency has to work with an external development firm to get landing pages created or technical changes done. This rarely works out well unless the marketing provider and the development firm have worked together before.

That is not you

This is a key point that is often missed. I speak with CEOs, founders, and marketing leaders frequently who are very busy and looking to hire an external marketing provider to take time off their hands. When I ask them who the point of contact will be at their company, they say “Oh, it will be me.”

This is a problem. It’s a problem because the CEO/founder/marketing leader is already very busy, but when you’re hiring an external provider you need to do with them what you do with team members – delegate not abdicate. You’re giving them specific areas to own, but you are not uninvolved from the process. If you’re uninvolved from the process, then you’ve abdicated responsibility and are setting yourself up for failure.

Ultimately, you not the agency/consultant is responsible for the results. Don’t forget that.

You’re busy, and you’re probably also not the subject matter expert on every channel. If you have a team, then you probably have team members who are responsible for the different channels.

That person should be the point of contact and they should view the agency as basically being part of their team, as if they had a team internally.

If you think you need to get into a new channel but you do not have someone internally who owns that channel who is not you, you are not ready to get into that new channel. I completely understand the desire to get something started and then hire someone to take it over. After all, that is the entrepreneur’s way and if you enjoy solving problems and learning new things, you probably want to own the new thing yourself until you figure it out.

Resist this temptation.

Long term, you are much more valuable to the company if you are able to hire a great team around you. Plus, it is impossible to straddle the individual contributor/manager line for very long. I did it for about eight months when I was the marketing leader at HotPads.com, and those were the hardest eight months of my professional career. They were even harder than starting my own company.

If you are going to effectively move your team and company metrics forward, you need to hire great people and trust them. A great marketer (who knows the channel well) will do a much better job much faster than you can if you are managing a team, hiring, and learning a new skill all at the same time.

If you do not have the budget yet to hire someone internally who can then also work with an external provider, then your strategy is different. But for the purpose of this post, let’s just assume that you already have a budget to hire people and an external provider as well.

Who understands the specific channel

As alluded to above, you’re a marketing leader because you’re probably a) really good at what you do, b) have learned to become good at hiring a great team, and c) are good at communicating the strategy and vision for where you are going, and d) marching in that direction with others following you. After all, you’re not a leader if you don’t have any followers or a specific direction.

This means that you’re probably not the best person person to be the point of contact for an agency that is working on a specific channel.

The person on your team who is the point of contact should have a good understanding of the channel, though. If you think their understanding isn’t good enough for them to be the point of contact, then you’ve either made a bad hiring decision or you need to trust them more.

Either way, you are not the right person to be the point of contact and you need someone who understands the channel and can get things done internally. Otherwise, the relationship with the agency is going to fail and you’re not going to hit your key metrics.

Hire good people to lead your channels and then let them be the point of contact.

Caveats

Obviously this post is taking something very broad and complicated and simplifying it, but everything I have said holds true. Not all of it will apply to everyone all the time, but this post should point you down the right road to being more successful when working with external providerrs.

Conclusion

If you are the marketing leader at a company with a marketing team and are looking to hire an external marketing provider to help you out, remember:

If you’re hiring a marketing agency or consultant to work with, you need figure out if you need strategy or services and then give the agency one experienced point of contact internally that is not you and who understands the specific channel.

We can help with that through the Porter Service, or if you already know what you need then schedule a call with us so we can get you introduced.