How to Manage a Digital Marketing Agency Relationship

Think you should be getting more from your digital marketing agencies? Find out how to work with, negotiate with and make your digital agency relationships more profitable.

We’ve trained our agencies to work against us.

The pitch meeting is the culprit.

The pitch meeting is when an agency comes to their client — or their client comes to them — and they present the creative that they’ve prepared. It may be well-researched creative, based on data both qualitative and quantitative.

During the pitch meeting, the agency asks a small group of people — company executives typically — to review, choose, modify or reject the creative. There are no clients in this meeting. The people in this room are supposed to represent the customer that the creative is designed for.

The people making these decisions may know their customers well, but this setting is designed to bring out our biases.

The personal preferences of each executive drives confirmation bias. The emotion of past wins and past failures drives availability bias. The love of cool designs drives novelty bias.

And the highest ranking executive in the room gets deferential treatment. I’m not sure if there is an official deference bias, but there should be.

The pitch meeting is a tough time for the agency. Regardless of what the research done, if the executives don’t like the creative, it puts the relationship at risk. So, the pitch meeting becomes about pleasing the client, not the client’s customers.

This is how failed campaigns get launched, how website redesigns reduce revenue, how agencies get canned for decisions made by this small group of executives.

The oppression of the pitch meeting can only be broken by the client. Or so I thought.

Managing agency relationships with Garrett Mehrguth on Intended Consequences podcast

Managing agency relationships with Garrett Mehrguth on Intended Consequences podcast

Garrett Mehrguth runs an agency called Directive, and he’s taking some unusual approaches toward his client relationships. Today on Intended Consequences, we’ll learn how Garrett is using transparency, data, branding and hard decisions to help shape the culture of his clients.

He believes, as I do, that this is in the best interest of a clients’ customers, which will ultimately serve the brands we work with.

On today’s show we talk all about agency management – how to leverage the relationship, how to think about the relationship, and how content (the written word) is not dead – with the CEO of Directive Consulting.

Digital Agency Management Tip

There will be a moment that first re-shapes the pitch meeting dynamic.

For me it was when an agency gave me three mockups of a new design and asked me to choose the one I wanted to proceed with. I said, “I don’t know. Go collect some data and tell me which one I should pick.”

When you get back to the office, try a little experiment.

Pull up some of the creative that your agency or internal team has delivered. Instead of considering what you think of it, ask yourself, “How could the agency collect some data to help us make this better?”

If you listen to this podcast, you’ll be familiar with several tools that can be used.

In your next agency meeting, ask the question, “How could we collect some data that helps us get this right?” Their response may be unsatisfying at first, but you’ve taken the first step toward changing their focus, from your preferences back to your customers’ preferences.

Repeat after me: “Go get us some data to tell us what will work.”

They’ll probably call me, and that’s OK too.

Resources and links from the Podcast

Brian Massey
1 reply
  1. Daphne Gilpin says:

    Thanks for explaining that the pitch meeting is when the client and agency meet up and the creative ideas are presented. The company I work for has been discussing ways we can modernize our business, and I think it’d make things a lot easier if we found a digital marketing agency to help us out. I’m glad I read your article because now I know what to expect from the process of meeting with a digital agency.


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