Valerie Jennings, CEO & Founder of JSMM+VBM
Photos: 2018 Key West, Florida
I founded my first company in 2003 at the age of 24 and landed several social media gigs with enterprise and publicly traded companies shortly thereafter. I was a pioneer in social media, starting with early testing in 2005 with a dirt track racing brand. Once I saw how easy it was to provide ROI from digital PR efforts to website conversions, I knew it was the future and would disrupt the industry forever.
In the beginning, it felt like watching paint dry. I saw the larger advertising agencies struggle to adopt the rapid changes in the industry. The disruption caused large power vacuums and enterprise brands found themselves struggling to achieve the right digital partnerships. It opened up great opportunities for our agency with companies on the coasts and in Europe that hired us to spearhead pilot programs. Even during this early time period, we were creating our social media/PR programs with a lead generation component.
It wasn’t easy. We had to break through lots of barriers including IT, web development, analytics, marketing and senior leadership teams. One large brand even had my entire team take personality assessments to try to determine or profile, who we were and how we approached the new digital terrain. It was a very exciting time. In 2018, we still see similar resistance with legal departments and leadership, but it’s more accepted to have digital agencies at the helm. The challenges today are different than the challenges from the early days.
These are my top tips and fundamental strategies companies should evaluate before hiring a digital agency to lead their new efforts or mature current programs.
1. Evaluate Content. Make sure you have a handle on your content or at a minimum a brand or content style guide ready for your agency. If you don’t, then make sure they create one or you request it. The content style guide includes things such as brand voice, image styling, fonts, AP Style, creative direction for photos and videos, etc. Without this in place, it can be a slow start or uphill climb until you figure out what you like through trial and error. Not all style guides are created equal. You will need to factor in personas, targeting, goals/objectives, business messaging and more.
2. Original Versus Stock Art. Make sure it’s clear if you expect your digital agency to shoot original photos and videos as part of your social media or dress up and style stock art. A lot of brands do a combination of the two. To expect that your agency will be using its photographers and videographers for all new social media content can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, but very rewarding for the brand. Set these expectations while you are negotiating your contract terms, not after the fact. It will affect the budget and scope of work.
3. What Are Your Sales Goals. Most digital agencies do not want to be held accountable for sales goals. While it’s important to note that the company is responsible for closing the leads once the agency generates them, it’s important to set expectations. If you want sales leads then tell your agency. Request case studies or ask to speak with a client or two so you can understand how they worked with their clients to get the leads. Some agencies, like mine, will provide detailed reporting with custom tracking to source the channels the leads came from. All of our custom programs are designed to meet the goals and objectives set forth by the client. We have very few clients who are exclusively seeking brand building. It’s important to point out that you have to utilize both tactics: branding and lead generation. You can’t have one without the other and be successful. Ask the right questions when you interview an agency regarding their lead generation practices and ask them where they feel they are strongest. Most agencies will not want to be held accountable for sales and leads. It’s important to find out before you start your engagement with them.
There are many opportunities to create a successful working relationships with a digital agency. Communication, collaboration and mutual accountability are the keys to success.