Last month I wrote about my view that email is both a speciality that requires experts and a medium that cannot operate in a vacuum. In essence, that email marketers cannot operate without reference to, and appreciation of, other channels but that they should be specialists not generalists.
I want to follow on from that thinking and speak about agencies. Many companies utilize advertising and marketing agencies and there is an enormous variety to accommodate every size and budget. My company belongs to a holding company that owns hundreds of different agencies from huge generalists with offices across the globe to specialist, niche providers. What I've seen over the years though is a tendency among agencies to underestimate and undervalue email as a medium and I've seen this manifest in several ways.
For some it is a question of risk and reward. They view email as offering little reward while carrying big risks. If they take on email work and execute it well they make relatively little money compared to other media. However, if they execute poorly they may upset an important client or do significant damage to their reputation. These agencies tend to avoid email and are often the reason that you end up hunting around on websites to find out how to get the company's newsletter or why there's an outstanding loyalty program with smart membership cards and glossy brochures yet the email updates are text-only and end up in your spam folder.
For some it's a matter of underestimating the complexity of email. How this varies from the account executive who says, "I send email every day, how hard can it be?" to the designer who says, "It's just HTML, we do that all the time." These agencies often take on email work but are more focused on the CPM rate of an email service provider (ESP) than the functionality and the results. When a big company is sending their email through a small business-oriented ESP it's probably because there's a "how hard can it be?" agency in the mix.
There are others for whom email seems like a useful adjunct to what they already do. Often CRM or direct mail agencies endeavor to integrate email into their existing offerings and do so with varying degrees of success. They may talk a good talk but their solutions will often be little more than traditional direct marketing campaigns repackaged. When a company's emails look like they could be printed fliers they're probably using one of these agencies.
The fourth type of agency is focused on what's new and exciting in the advertising and marketing world. Talk to them about email and they just aren't interested - it's boring and old. They'll tell you that email is dead. That tweens and teens don't do email. These are the agencies that will tell you that it's vital to have a brand presence on some up-and-coming system you've never heard of. When a company posts Facebook updates five times a day but their email messages are unusable on your iPhone they're probably using a magpie agency.
My point of course is not that all agencies are terrible and don't do email well. There are many great agencies out there, but not all agencies are created equal and exceptional capability in one area does not necessarily mean exceptional in all. Of course, we all know this. But until recently if you wanted an agency to handle email it was likely to be a secondary medium for them and it was very hard to tell in advance how capable they were. In the last few years though things have changed. As the level of sophistication of email platforms has grown and the expectations of consumers has risen so has the number of agencies that have a true email speciality. Some are traditional agencies with full-on email practices while others are specialists whose focus is email.
For agencies that are dabbling in email and faking it till they make it this should be a wakeup call. The bar is being raised. Treat email with the respect and focus it deserves and get in the game or go home.
For clients this means you do not have to settle for your email program being an afterthought. You can expect and receive expert strategy, content, execution, and integration from people who are email specialists with proven track records able to take your email to the max.
Until next time,
Martini image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.
December 12, 2013
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