4 Questions for Agency Success

Managers must identify methodologies and processes that are a) easy to adopt and b) hold the potential to address as many problems as possible. The basic premise is to look at a department or even an entire business and ask, “What are 10 things I can implement that will solve 85 percent of our problems?” There are no easy answers to many things, but there still are simple approaches to some complex problems.

One thing I came up with to help media and account people to ensure that all their critical bases are covered is an approach I call, “The four questions of account management.” Now while I use the title of account managers in the title of this particular little nugget of management wisdom, I assure this applies to media, search, social – actually anything in business.

OK, so here are the four questions:

  1. Are the finances in order?
  2. What are the open issues?
  3. Is this going to work?
  4. How can this be better?

Let’s review each question in more detail. If you look at each account or campaign you are working on and ask these four questions every day, you will be prompted to ask the other critical questions that will help you succeed.

Question No. 1: Are the Finances in Order?

  • This is not out of greed or selfishness. Nothing aggravates clients more or causes more problems in media buying than the finances being off. Missed bills, overruns, tracking down purchase orders, late bills – these things make our lives hard, waste our time, and waste clients’ time. Billing snafus take everyone’s eyes off the ball.
  • Billing problems have a negative impact on an agency’s credibility. If an agency cannot get its finances straight, how can it be trusted to manage ultra-complex online media campaigns with hundreds of moving parts and dollars going in dozens of different directions?

Question No. 2: What Are the Open Issues?

  • OK, this is a catch-all. But if asked every day, it will ensure that you update your to-do list. It will keep your eye on big tasks as well as the two-second things that might fall through the cracks and come back to bite you later. Did you answer all the email questions the client sent you? Are you waiting for approvals on plans and creative? Did you send the client that little success nugget such as your cost-per-action dropping 15 percent because of that little optimization tactic you employed? Did you send out that cool new rich media feature to your clients to keep them in the know? Again, what are the open issues right now?
  • Do not let the client stop you from doing your job. Just because you sent a question for clarification or an approval form to a client and are waiting for a reply, don’t think that your job is done. Your job is not to send an email and check off an item on your list. Your job is to bring a program to fruition. Remember, clients hired you to get stuff done – “I am waiting for the client’s approval” isn’t an excuse. Send your client a daily reminder checklist saying, “These are the items (and deadlines) we need from you and these are the things that are late.” A client may get annoyed at your persistence but in the end cannot fault you for your zeal in completing the task they are paying you to complete.

Question No. 3: Is This Going to Work?

  • Often I encounter campaigns that do not make sense. They do not conform to best practices. They omit calls to action. Messages are vague or they do not clearly funnel people toward a marketing objective.
  • When looking at any marketing program, you must draw a quick path from impression to conversion. If the program requires too many hops or intellectual leaps of comprehension, it will not work! Pretty pictures and cool rich media are only great if they work. So, cool for the sake of cool is like the high school bad-ass all the girls loved at the time; then he ended up working at the gas station. There is just no future in creative that does not sell.

Question No. 4: How Can This Be Better?

  • This is the most important question of them all! There is always room to improve a plan, piece of creative, or live campaign, building upon historical data or best practices. Success and optimization are not a destination; they are a process and methodology.
  • A marketer’s job must always improve performance and know the optimization levers to pull and test to improve ROI. The most talented marketers have developed a critical eye for improvement and are always cataloging past successes in their mind to apply to future marketing programs. If you know that something works, focus on that success and scale it up in everything you can.

So, let’s recap the four questions:

  1. Are finances in order?
  2. What are the open issues?
  3. Is this going to work?
  4. How can this be better?

Say them out loud, print them, share them, make posters, and post them to your walls. Live them!

This column was originally published Feb. 2, 2010 under the headline, “Four Questions of Client Management;” the intro has been updated.