All too often, marketers can 'settle in' to a particular relationship, and that can lead to complacency. In this article, we look at the importance of evaluating your current agency partnerships and where to start.

Like any relationship, brand-agency partnerships are easy to start but hard to perfect.

A real marketing agency partner should feel like part of your team, and should be evaluated as such - so, regularly evaluating the performance of your marketing agencies is crucial for any in-house team wanting to get the best from an agency partnership.

In this article, we're taking a step-by-step approach to evaluating your marketing agency partners, including our interactive Agency Evaluation Checklist, different types of analysis, and advice for taking a mutually beneficial approach to agency evaluation.

Download: The Marketing Agency Evaluation Checklist

Getting started with an agency performance evaluation

A good place to start this evaluation is by running something called a 'SWOT analysis' (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.)

This is not intended to be a data-led analysis, but rather a pulse check to understand what you and your team think is working best, and where you need to focus your efforts going forward with your agency.

How to run a swot analysis of your agency partners

Depending on what your timeframe is, you can run the SWOT analysis with just your team, or you can choose to include wider stakeholders involved in the agency relationship. Realistically, the more perspectives of those involved that you could gather here, the more rounded a view you will get on your agency performance so far.

To clarify which section an idea belongs to, it helps to think of Strengths and Weaknesses as internal issues – that is, to do with the relationship with the agency. Think of Opportunities and Threats as related to the actual output of the agency, such as campaign performance or standard of final creative work.

Example questions to ask about your current marketing agency during evaluation:

Strengths: What do you enjoy about working with the agency?

Weaknesses: Where are the challenges with the agency? 

Opportunities: Where could your agency activity expand? What do you like about the agency output?

Threats: Where are the weaknesses in the agency output? 

Marketing Agency Evaluation Template

Properly analysing your current marketing agency with a SWOT analysis

It’s important to be clear and honest when undertaking a SWOT analysis - for example, only class something as a ‘strength’ if it brings you a clear advantage.

When addressing weaknesses, remember that these will only be resolved if you’re honest about them. Don’t beat around the bush, the whole point of an evaluation is to give you dedicated time to have hard conversations for the sake of better results for both you and your agency partner.

When deciding on opportunities for your strategy to expand, watch out for changes in the channels your competitors are using - where they are winning is where you are losing.

Changes in social patterns, audience personas and content styles can also throw up interesting opportunities.

With ‘threats,’ try to benchmark against some industry/agency averages. Is your budget reasonable? Are response times typical?

Once you have completed a SWOT analysis, you've got the groundwork for a more in-depth agency performance.

Whatever has jumped out as a key challenge or benefit should be kept at the forefront of your mind as your run through the rest of the review.

Key Criteria to help with your evaluation

It may be tempting to focus purely on the bottom-line performance when it comes to your agency review.

However, it’s important to consider both quantitative and qualitative measures.

For example, you might be happy with the output of work, but your team working day-to-day with the agency might be spending a lot of their own time managing the relationship and have frustrations of their own.

When evaluating your agency performance, you could use criteria such as these:

Creativity in the process

An effective agency should be able to contribute creative ideas and perspectives on projects, adding value to your own strength.

Think about outcomes

Some agencies might not perform well in a specific area, but you’ll decide that they don’t need to. For example, an agency working purely on execution might not need to be contributing to your wider strategy. Every brand-agency relationship is different. Try not to expect the world in every area. 

Create solid targets

Based on the above, mark up your ‘as-is’ score for each area and then also think about your ‘ideal’ score for the agency. This gives clear indicators of where you need to see improvement for your agency, provided that the targets are realistic. 

Final guidance for a successful marketing agency evaluation

Once you've built your criteria - or you're happy to work with our own interactive standard agency evaluation checklist available here - there are a few final points to make sure you're actually driving the process in a way that can drive positive outcomes.

Discuss the evaluation checklist with the agency in advance

Let your agency/agencies know that you’re running this process in advance so that they can understand where any outcomes are developed from.

Many times, tensions between brands and agencies occur when the agency think they are performing well in an area and unaware of the brand’s perspective.  Try to overcome this as early as possible in the review process – a good idea would be to share your SWOT analysis with them in advance, the criteria you're assessing, and give them time to absorb in advance.

Remember to also open yourself up to evaluation

As well as evaluating your agency performance, it’s also a good time to evaluate the part you play in the relationship, and if there’s anything you could be doing better.

An agency won’t be able to bring in millions in revenue if your budget is small.

They won’t be able to hit deadlines if you don’t give them a reasonable turnaround time.

As such, it’s important to be transparent with each other about outcomes and expectations. This is something echoed by Velstar in our ‘Mutual Success’ white paper.

“From the get-go, agencies have to be transparent about what they can and can’t do for a brand and set clear goals. This avoids any disappointment further down the line, and the client will value your honesty and trust you more.” 

“Equally though, a brand needs to be open and honest with an agency too, regarding business updates, feedback and any changes that they might need to know about.

The agency is working hard to help the client achieve the results they want, but to do this they need honest and the most up-to-date business information.”

Next steps for evaluation of your marketing agency support

Even if you have a strong relationship with your current agency partner/s, regular reviews are healthy for both parties. It can lead to discoveries of what could potentially work better, not only on the agency side, but also your own processes.

To help you get started, we’ve put all the above into an agency evaluation checklist which you can download here.

If, once completed, you feel there are too many areas of improvement to overcome, or that you may be better suited working with another agency, don’t fall victim to the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy. Finding a new agency doesn’t have to be hard work. We’re always happy to have a conversation about next steps for your marketing strategy, just get in touch here.