How Can Brands and Agencies Succeed Together?

The age-old question: How can brands and agencies collaborate to succeed? As more enterprise brands partner with agency expertise, the relationship can either go well or very wrong. In this session at BrightEdge’s Share 14 event, speakers discuss how to get the brand-agency relationship right.

First up, Adam Audette (@audette) of Rimm-Kaufman Group. He’s here to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the brand and agency relationship. He’s going to cover three parts: the evolution of SEO, the state of the union, and ideal working models – all of which play into the brand-agency relationship.

SEO started with affiliate spam, link spam, thin content, and so on, Audette says. Back then, SEOs were ranking obsessed, and there was no strategy. The reason this happened, he adds, is because SEO is big money. It’s great traffic, and it converts highly.

But SEO is still young. And today, Audette says, SEO is about good user experience that is sustainable and relevant. And content is the way you create that experience. We can’t forget acquisition and customer retention, he says. SEO is all of these things.

Today, the in-house guy wants to grow the marketing budget. He wants expertise and partnership, says Audette. But the agency gal says she wants to grow the agency, and scale teams and processes. These are diverging goals. Agencies need to scale, and hire inexpensive resources to do so, and brands need experts. 

Audette points out the agency crux: execution gap. As agencies grow, the experts get pulled away from client work. The brand crux? Resource constraints. This is where the agency comes in; they’re often not flexible enough because they have their approach, says Audette. But brands sometime need flexibility.

On the in-house side, the brand is often not clear on exactly what it needs from the agency. The brand needs to drive the expectations here, he says. Unfortunately, staff churn is the norm. So, Audette says you really need two to three years to establish the brand-agency partnership.

What brands need more than anything is a very clear strategy and priorities, he says. Unfortunately, agencies often just give their clients lists of to-dos. Agencies need real bench strength on the brand. And brands need smart selection. Audette points out that in some instances, brands may want to go with a smaller operation if there are stronger touch points. What it boils down to is relationships and performance. 

On the brand side, in-housers should build from within as much as possible, he says, so they have sustainability with SEO. On the agency side, service providers need to create flexible delivery models. Sure, you can have a default structure, says Audette, but customization is key. It comes down to the agency side, because they tend to be very rigid. His advice? Don’t waste your client’s time with a bunch of to-dos that don’t impact anything.

A final note: never outsource “link-building” – in fact, don’t do “link building,” he advises – create a content experience. Brands take on a huge risk when they outsource link-building. And, if you’re a link-building service, Audette points out that you have some serious ethical considerations to keep in mind.

When it comes to working models of the agency-brand relationship, here’s an illustration of the typical agency-brand structure, which doesn’t always work:


Here are a couple examples of an ideal agency-brand structure for various accounts:



Next up is Doug Peeples of General Motors (GM). Peeples says GM starts with the basics when tackling SEO, and the goal is to do them brilliantly. If you focus on the things you can execute and do flawlessly, that’s a great foundation, he says.


He’s invited Antonio Esposito of iProspect to the stage to continue the talk. Antonio is GM’s agency partner. He says that first, as an agency, you need to figure out who you need to work with to get everything implemented, or you’ll eventually fail.


This model is scalable because you can interchange people and objectives as necessary. Before you engage in any strategy, you need a kick-off meeting with the brand, he says. Make sure all people are there who have a stake in success, and that expectations are set.

Next, make sure you are able to track all your key metrics that you’ve set out to track. Esposito says implementation is next. And they were sure to implement al the best practices for the SEO basics.  

Also, don’t be afraid of failures or negative reception of information along the way coming from the agency side if things need to be fixed or addressed, says Esposito. 

Finally, there are three phases to agency and brand integration, Esposito says: educate, audit, implement. In the case of GM and iProspect, the education phase took months. 


Finally, as a brand, share knowledge along the way of what you’re working on, what’s working, and what isn’t, says Peeples. Let the world know what you’re doing. Tell your story before someone else does. 

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