How to get the most from your media agencies


The best agency client partnerships are based on an open and honest relationship, built on mutual respect for each other’s professionalism and integrity. It helps if you start out right, but when things are going wrong it’s always better to address any issues early and get back on track – niggling doubts will lead to lingering resentment and inevitably poor performance.

Demand transparency

One of the biggest concerns and sources of frustration for clients is that they don’t really know what they are paying their agencies. Hidden fees, mark-ups, margins and out-of-scope services make agency costs unclear and make clients nervous.

Your contract should contain a comprehensive list of in-scope services and a fee structure for out-of-scope. Agencies should not have an exclusive contract for out-of-scope services and you should consider tendering these elements from time to time.

Know what questions to ask about programmatic. Understand their tech stack - what DMP (data management platform) they use, what DSPs (demand-side platforms) and what exchanges they are on? Ask about mark ups – tech costs, labour costs and agency profit margins.

Understand media trading terms. Is media charged on a fully disclosed third party rate, or is there any arbitrage? Is there a commitment to neutral planning outside the influence of volume deals? What commitments are made on your behalf? Do you have a right of audit?

Ask the hard questions. I’m always amazed at the answer when I ask frustrated clients “Well, have you asked them?”.

Pay them

Seems obvious. Transparency and payment go hand-in-hand. If you don’t understand how an agency can run its business on your fee, the answer is probably that they can’t. If you want full transparency and strong business results, then the business model has to work for agencies.

You will have to defend the fees, so regularly evaluate performance metrics and prove business results.

Know what you want

Marketers are working in a complex ecosystem and most now have 5+ agencies working on their business. Ensure you have the optimal mix of talent to meet your objectives. Make sure roles, expectations and goals are clear for each agency partner and that they know exactly how they should work together. Be realistic about the scope of work, timelines for delivery and resource that you are engaging.

Getting the brief right….briefly!

Really think through how you can succinctly communicate the situation and the challenge. Separate out the business objectives and the campaign goals.  Reflect on how you can inspire your agency. Be absolutely clear and don’t change your mind!

Set objectives that matter & report on them regularly

Does your agency understand your business objectives?  This is a critical starting point.  You will need to share sensitive commercial information; you should have a strong enough relationship with agency partners to do this without fear. Then, work with your agency partners to set specific campaign goals that will contribute to the achievement of these objectives.    Ensuring everyone is focused on monitoring the same business outcomes and understanding the critical success factors to achieve these goals leads to better decision making and integration and allows the wider team to constantly test and learn.

·         Overall business objectives; All of your agencies should be working to the same objectives and should be accessing the same interim reporting. Overall business objectives generally shouldn’t be linked to agency remuneration. It will be hard to attribute success or failure to one particular element or partner and will just lead to fear and blame.

·         Critical success factors (campaign goals); these are the marketing goals that will drive the overall business objectives. A relevant metric for each of these objectives should always be included in your agency performance review and should be part of your bonus structure.

·         Hygiene factors (campaign metrics); traditional OTL communications metrics, such as reach, frequency, cover (cost-per-cover) in addition to digital, search and social metrics – viewability, CTR, views, searches, follows, engagements – are the bedrock of the day-to-day and will be the basis for watching trends & campaign success.

·         Cost & quality benchmarks; are important targets for traditional ‘commodity’ buys but less effective in new media models. Understand what proportion of spend can be benchmarked in the traditional way and how to innovate for new media and technologies. 

Implement the right action plan

Performance reviews should be the beginning of the cycle, not the end. Dig deep into the results from previous campaigns and develop an action plan for maximum gain. Focus on the “big wins” (and key risks!), if it really won’t impact business results why waste resources on it?

Pick up the phone!

I’m showing my age, I know. Relationships cannot be built without random chats. Even day-to-day interactions should involve a quick chat if possible. You’re not in the same building, you’re unlikely to bump into each other during the day. Make an effort to build a connection, sense the mood or iron out a misunderstanding. Problems are rarely solved over email – but often start there.

Agency performance management can be complex; you often need some independent advice. That might be just to ask a quick question in confidence or to explore better solutions.

We’d love to chat to you. To find out more call us on (01) 556 36 78 or email us at and we’ll get right back.

Vivien McKechnie