When a company partners with an agency, its leaders are usually seeking to gain exposure in specific markets, generate leads, boost sales, increase profits or all of the above. Working with agency pros who are up on the latest trends and can provide testimonials from their own happy clients can be a huge boon for any business, provided the company is willing to meet their agency partners halfway.

All of the excitement and enthusiasm that exists on both sides when a company starts working on a new campaign with an agency can sometimes lead to critical balls being dropped or essential details being glossed over. To ensure the best results, clients need to understand some important things about the nature of the client-agency relationship. Here, John Assalian and other agency leaders of Forbes Agency Council share what they wish all new clients understood upfront and ways to make this clear at the start of a partnership.

Members of Forbes Agency Council share details about the agency-client relationship that it’s important for new clients to know.

1. We Are Here To Help You

We are not the enemy; you need to trust the decision you made to work with us and let us do our job, which is to make you money through sound strategies. Another thing to remember is that when we give you a goal-based timeline, it’s not to stretch the time; rather, it’s a calculated and researched solution to achieving your goal—and yes, it takes time! The pyramids weren’t built in a day. – Aman Swetta, id8 Media Solutions

2. Mutual Trust Is Essential

The need for trust goes both ways. Agencies need to earn the trust of clients with careful explanations of the process. Clients need to trust that the agency is on their team. Remote work makes this harder, so put some extra time into icebreakers and take advantage of in-person meetings if you can. – John Assalian, Viewstream

3. More Engagement Equals Better Results

The more engaged a client is in the process and the more they take responsibility for getting back to the agency in a timely manner, the better the outcome. Clients need to make themselves available for meetings and reply to emails with well-thought-out responses to questions. Inevitably, if a client is disengaged, the relationship will go sour. – Nancy Marshall, Marshall Communications

4. It Takes Two For A Relationship To Work

Many clients think they hire an agency and then their work is done. It’s actually just beginning. Clients need to invest time in the partnership from day one, and that means having a say in shaping strategy, planning, execution and measurement. This should be made clear verbally and in writing early on in the engagement. – Paula Chiocchi, Outward Media, Inc.

5. Clearly Defined KPIs Are All That Matters

Having clearly defined key performance indicators is the only thing that matters. While we’ll all know the end goals for return on investment, working quickly to define the KPIs that can move that proverbial needle will be the only thing that matters. Establishing clear communication through on-demand dashboards so that everyone is clear on the current status and expectations will go a long way in an ever-changing industry. – Michael Hubbard, Media Two Interactive

6. We Need You To Give Us Something To Work With

We always stress authenticity, but sometimes trying to bring that authenticity out is like pulling teeth. While we know how to market and grow your brand, we need something to work with, and that has to come from our client. Give us a base, and don’t be afraid to speak up and tell us when you like something and when you don’t. Never be afraid to be creative and think outside the box. – Jason Hall, FiveChannels Marketing

7. Hiding Information Helps No One

We are here to help, so please do not hide information. If you are getting more results for leads and sales, that is great! We are not going to charge more based on good results, so share the good news with us. Conversely, if you are not getting results, let us know that too. We can alter digital campaigns quickly—often the same day. – Peter Boyd, PaperStreet Web Design

8. We Get The Leads, You Close The Deals

Our job is to generate qualified leads or results, not to close the deal. Once we pass it on to the client, it’s on them to make it happen. Also, there is no “magic button” we can press to make their site rank higher or their ads convert at a higher percentage. It takes a team of skilled people and many hours of hard work to achieve their results. – David Kley, Web Design and Company

9. We Are Not Mind Readers Or Magicians

We can tell a client how to tell the most effective story and set them up to succeed, but we can’t force a writer to care. Our strongest relationships are those with clients who fully understand the amount of work that goes into getting them into the right place at the right time. – Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR & Marketing

10. Quality Results Take Time

When engaging in an agency relationship, clients need to understand that the agency wants to deliver quality results, and building the strategy and executing on deliverables takes time. It is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Long-term results generate lasting impact. Agencies must take the time to explain this reasoning, when to expect quick wins, and a time frame for larger-impact projects. – Elyse Flynn Meyer, Prism Global Marketing Solutions

11. We’re Are All About Results, Not Ego

As a partner, our overarching goal is to drive better results from a strategic marketing standpoint—not to simply agree with whatever our partner brand “thinks” they want. We make this clear from day one as we break down competitive research, opportunity analysis and our strategic approach with the client. We are not about stroking egos; we are about getting results. – Bernard May, National Positions

12. We Need Timely Access To Key Details And Assets

In order for any marketing team to provide quality service, it’s essential to be timely in providing information and details. We have an onboarding system that tends to be a bit exhausting, but it gives us everything we need for the best outcome and results. If a client delays in getting us important details or access to assets, it can heavily impact the timeline. – Logan Rae, Argon Agency

13. Client Approval Deadlines Are Critical

While we build extra time into any approval-based deadline, when a client just ignores it completely, it can cause an issue—whether it is us having to constantly follow up or their projects falling behind. Deadlines are in place to ensure the timely (and cost-effective) delivery of campaigns. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

14. Honesty Is Essential

Be honest with us about everything: the good, the bad and the ugly. The “ugly” is most important. It doesn’t matter what you’ve tried that didn’t work; it matters that you share this information with us so that we can assess it objectively. We’re not here to judge; we’re here to help. And to help, we need all the information—even things that you might not think are important. – Vix Reitano, Agency 6B

Too often in marketing, we allow the strategies we have always relied upon to distract us from new avenues for growth. Marketing is fluid, and the moment you think you’ve got it all figured out is the same moment that the script is flipped and you find yourself on the outside looking in. This is the perpetual cycle of business, and the only way out is through.

The tactics that once easily won in the marketplace can quickly become antiquated and even detrimental to your continued success. Being aware of this is the first step to staying ahead of the curve, but with awareness comes the responsibility to act.

Try new strategies. Experiment with workflows you’re unsure of. Don’t take anything for granted. By doing so, you won’t just reveal the actual value of what you think you know, but also new methods and practices that can only be discovered through iteration.

Below, I share six tips based on assumptions we ought to rethink.

There isn’t much differentiation between ‘awareness’ and ‘demand.’

In today’s world, there is no shortage of contact data for B2B audiences, and channels where you can reach them on a 1-1 basis are numerous. Awareness and demand tactics are no longer that different. It is high time to test your assumption that some activities are “awareness” and some are “demand.” The distinction may be a relic.

Don’t ignore home-grown leads in favor of paid platforms.

Viable leads for B2B marketing are coming less and less from social media sources or digital tactics. Yes, there are many platforms out there that purport to reach your B2B customers, but when you truly measure the benefits, do they stack up? Probably not. Some platforms talk about ABM (account-based marketing) and building contextual awareness of buying groups, but for B2B marketing the data is already there. You just need to get the data, have a strategy, communicate your value proposition and make an offer.

Put your strategies to the test.

The truth is that most marketing problems are strategic problems. The tactic hasn’t been tested, validated or shown to have product/market fit. You need to figure out the most effective elements of each strategy by putting them to the test, seeing what does and doesn’t work, and iterating based on your findings until you discover the optimal combination. Experiment with new types of offers. Try targeting different job titles and industries. You should always be ready to pivot to a new strategy to maintain the growth cycle as markets change.

Don’t make assumptions about your target market.

Marketing is empirical. Only with validation can we say we know anything, and that validation comes in the form of revenue. That’s why you need the hard facts about who you’re marketing to. Document your ICP (ideal customer profile). Work with sales to pull a target contact list based on this profile. Pull the ecosystem — B2B is always a group decision — as colleagues will forward relevant emails to others to pursue. Through this process, relevant leads will reveal themselves to you and serve as a guide for how to build the most effective strategies.

Find creative ways to use the data you already have.

While you may think a lack of data is one of the problems you face, chances are you already have more than enough. The real question is, are you extracting the right insights? Contact data typically gives you a lot of information about the people at a company or an account you want to connect with. The data will include information like LinkedIn profiles or phone numbers, viable points of contact that should be taken advantage of. You can even use contact data to triangulate your first-party data. There are many vendors that can help, so choose wisely and make sure the data is up to date.

You never know when the timing will be right.

Timing is everything. You may have the exact right target — the question is: When are they ready to make a move? It’s hard to know (sorry, the AI isn’t there yet), so it’s essential to be persistent, focused and determined. People do not choose your competition because you marketed to them too much. When someone chooses your competition, find out why and market against it.

You can’t take anything for granted in the world of marketing, even the strategies that you’ve traditionally been able to rely on. In fact, the success of those exact strategies may be distracting you from ways that they can be improved or new processes that you have yet to try. In marketing, the only way for us to arrive at the truth is through trial and error. If you believe something to be true, challenge that notion by testing it out and letting the results speak for themselves. By doing so, you’ll not only gain a deeper understanding of your current strategies but also the ability to respond quickly to changes in the market by pivoting to more effective methods when necessary.

Read the Forbes article here.

A No-Fluff Guide To Branding


If you’ve sat through a branding meeting recently, you’ve probably seen it: the slide deck filled with fuzzy, all-caps words like “authentic” and “caring,” fancy slides labeling your company as the “feisty underdog challenger” and all sorts of other fluff. (“Fluff” is the polite term for this type of thing; I can think of another word.)

This isn’t branding. Or, at least, it’s not what branding should be. At its heart, a brand isn’t about a series of pretty words, but rather owning a favorable position in the customer’s consciousness. Do that and you’ve won the branding game.

Here’s how:

1. Start With The Customer And Competitive Landscape

Customers typically want to know what they can get from you, and why they should get it from your company instead of from someone else. Cut through the color schemes and fonts and lists of core values and ask yourself the following: What are people looking for from your company? And what are you already delivering?

The answers to these questions are far more important than any buzzword or cliché.

Think for a moment about the world’s best-known brands and you’ll see just how clear the customer value proposition is in your mind. For instance, I can’t list Apple’s core values off the top of my head, but I can tell you the company is known for creating beautiful, user-friendly devices. I can’t tell you anything about Nintendo’s latest branding deck, but I can tell you that it’s one of the world’s leading companies for family-friendly gaming. That’s what effective branding looks like.

Remember that brands exist in a larger ecosystem. This is the real reason that design decisions like color schemes are so important — they set your company apart from the competition.

I’ve seen branding decks that include a competitive landscape matrix where nearly every box next to the company’s name is checked off. This is a major red flag. If a branding agency is trying to convince you that your company can be all things to all people, it’s time to go elsewhere for your advice.

2. Prioritize Substance Over Style

Many people think of branding largely in terms of logos, websites and other design elements. But you can have a sleek, modern design and customers still might not have any idea what your company does or why they should care. That’s why it’s important to start with strategy and then let that drive your design decisions.

Another common mistake: People get bogged down with lengthy conversations about things like purpose, promise, tone and core values. Yes, these are important, but the leader of a company should be able to articulate these four things fairly quickly. This should be the easy part. The branding team should spend the bulk of its time and effort on more tangible things like competitive landscape, brand architecture, customer value proposition, customer pain points and go-to-market messaging.

Even more importantly, these branding decisions must be backed up by action. Look at a company like Southwest Airlines. The brand is anchored by the idea that it takes care of its customers, but this lofty ideal doesn’t live solely in a branding deck. Instead, the airline takes concrete steps, such as allowing customers to change their flights without paying a fee. Any other airline can claim to be caring, but when customers get charged an extra $100 to switch to an earlier flight, they’ll instantly see through the branding nonsense.

3. Embrace Simplicity

Beware of branding bloat. A client recently asked us to do specialized branding for their human resources department, but we turned down the project. “You already have a brand,” we told them. “Use the strength of that brand to recruit new employees.”

Also, it’s usually a mistake to include a very large group of stakeholders in brand meetings. It’s great that branding is no longer just a marketing function, but conversations can quickly become muddled when branding teams are trying to please people from sales, human resources, corporate social responsibility and other departments. Make branding a strategic function that starts at the top.

Finally, be incredibly skeptical when an agency rolls out an overly complicated branding methodology. Branding may not be “easy,” but when it’s done right, it tends to be fairly simple and straightforward. If a branding agency’s approach seems complex or tedious, cast a wary eye. And if they ask you to define 25 different terms before you even get started, run away.

By taking a pragmatic, business-focused approach to branding, you can connect with your customers, set yourself apart from competitors and cut out the fluff — or whatever you want to call it.

Read the full trends article here.