Maximizing the Client-Agency Relationship

So, you just signed on that huge new client and are excited about beginning an ad campaign! Your agency understands the potential budgets involved, but this client is different. It’s a “New Age Dot-Com,” meaning it launched after the March/April Nasdaq slide, and it actually wants to see some return on investment for the ad dollars being spent. It doesn’t have any “dumb money” to throw around, as its venture capitalists have gotten tighter with the cash.

Let’s assume the client is a very successful brick-and-mortar retailer that has just launched its online store. The client is skeptical that this new initiative can be profitable. (We’ve all dealt with a similar client, where a newer, younger client employee completes the e-tailing project for a very successful brick-and-mortar company and now needs the older managers to approve an advertising budget.) He gets a small budget approved and hires your agency, explaining his one and only goal is to generate sales from his company’s web site (not an unreasonable goal, by any means).

Basically, the agency is told that unless the first-month test budget yields a certain level of sales, the client will discontinue the advertising, providing no additional funds for the project. However, if the test campaign goes well, there is huge potential for the online project.

As the online media planner, you are directly responsible for designing a masterful campaign that will yield conversions into sales. This is a tough task, considering you are working with a small budget that leaves you with many options and little spending power if you choose to spread the dollars over several placements. At the end of the month, this sample campaign will determine whether or not the client commits to a six-figure budget for the next six months.

You are confident in your plan but you will only have answers once your third-party ad server begins showing numbers. So you work with the client’s webmaster, setting up all the proper tags in order to track pages beyond the initial click-through to the site. Finally, as you are about to tag the “Thank You” page (the page indicating the sale and dollar value sold), and your client intervenes, saying he will not share this information with you, as it is confidential and available only to a few select individuals.

Under this situation, your post-click analysis results (likely the best tool available in online media) will be inconclusive, since the next best indicator of a sale is the traffic brought to the client’s shopping-cart page. However, there are always shoppers who get to the shopping cart and do not follow through with their purchase. Therefore, although we have the ability to measure exactly, we are still left guessing where we might have made good or bad decisions.

By month’s end, your 25K trial campaign has brought 300 visitors to the shopping-cart page of your client’s site. Not bad at all! Sounds pretty good, considering your client sells high-end apparel, for an average of $100 per sale, representing $30,000 in revenue. Most advertisers would be thrilled with this return rate, but were they all sales? Some? Any? Were our efforts successful or a total waste of time and money? We do not know, as only those select few individuals are privy to this information.

It is imperative for a client to partner with its agency, rather than just hire one. What’s the difference? A partnership means that the client wants its agency to play a key role in the company’s development, exchanging results and data and working together to maximize the efforts of both parties. But when an agency is hired, the client merely gives the agency a budget and objectives, then tells the agency what went wrong at the end of each month. As in any business, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do business. Obviously, a partnership attitude is the approach that works best over the long run.

Agencies understand that their clients’ data are highly confidential. However, we work for our clients and want them all to be successful. If confidentiality is the main concern, then signing a confidentiality agreement is the best way to go.

It is also important to be careful using small test budgets, as they are often misleading and can misrepresent the potential of a proper ad campaign. With a one-month time frame, it is hard to decide where to place ads and optimize to get the best results. Testing ad placements is a huge part of advertising on the Internet, as the industry is still very young and continuously changing. You are better off using a longer test period of at least three to four months to allow for better optimization.

Perhaps you can remember a similar situation to the one just described? Clients should work closely with their respective agencies and give their input on decisions made. The fact remains that the industry is so young that there are thousands of opportunities available and only time to consider a select few. By sharing data and other information with your partners, you increase the likelihood of making better decisions in the future and eliminating repeated mistakes.

The client-agency relationship is as important to campaign success as the agency-publisher relationship. Agencies (interactive agencies, in particular) do their best to keep their clients well informed and share information, and it only makes sense for the client to do the same in order to maximize campaign potential.

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