When you engage an agency to help you address your marketing goals, you’ll often see a nice org chart that gives you details on all the people servicing your account. Each person on the chart plays a different role. You might hear from some of them every day, while others you might interact with very sparingly or not at all.
Odds are that your day-to-day contact, though, isn’t the person who is most hands-on with your programs. Agencies tend to erect walls around their subject matter experts (SMEs), and this can cause problems with how efficiently your agency addresses your business objectives. It’s important to pay attention to how SMEs are utilized in the mix of people servicing your business, or you may find that you’re overpaying for services, or that you’re not getting the expertise you need to achieve what you set out to accomplish.
Here are some signs that your agency may not have adequate SME representation in your account service model:
1) Your agency can’t answer simple questions on the spot. Everything you ask about, whether it’s a closing date for a print insertion to a question about how you’re tracking a KPI in your analytics package, is met with an “I’ll have to get back to you.” While it’s sometimes okay for an answer to a question to be nuanced and considered, it’s not okay to not know the basics about a program. If your main point of contact needs help to answer every question he’s posed, it’s because he’s not an SME and he doesn’t have adequate access to them internally.
2) Your programs have difficulty scaling. Most SMEs, when thinking about the specifics of marketing programs, have an intuitive understanding of how big the upper bound of the marketing opportunity is. Others, who often don’t have a first-hand knowledge of market conditions that can limit scale, will tend to overpromise to you and underdeliver. If you ran a successful pilot that garnered you 20,000 new customers and now you want 2,000,000 but the agency is having difficulty in scaling things up, it might be because they haven’t tapped into the SMEs enough to understand the market.
3) You have reservations about their ability to execute. Strategically, you think your agency is dead on. And they get your business. But where the rubber meets the road, they can’t seem to deliver. If you agency is more of a strategic consultant and they can’t consistently deliver what they promise, it might be because they haven’t allocated enough time for their SMEs to do their thing.
4) In an emergency, you hear from people you’ve never heard from before. Whether you order a campaign pulled because of a surprise consumer complaint, or you ask your agency to find out why your ad ran next to some objectionable content – all of a sudden you’re talking to people you’ve never talked to before. These people aren’t part of an elite crisis management team your agency keeps on staff in order to deal with time-sensitive problems. They’re probably the SMEs your agency has been keeping under wraps, and who have been working on your business all along. Surprise!
If you’re seeing this kind of behavior on a consistent basis, it might be because your agency is holding back on giving you the right mix of subject matter expertise versus account support.
Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for Tom’s column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.