It’s a far too common scenario: You build the capability of your marketing department by hiring agency support but then find yourself buckling under the weight of managing the agency. Rather than focusing on strategy, leading and promoting your department, you begin spending considerable time ensuring the agency gets what it needs to succeed.
What happened? Aren’t agencies supposed to take things off of your plate? There are some common reasons workload tends to increase with agency support, but the good news is that you can structure your marketing department to improve agency results while regaining control of your time.
Why don’t agencies save you as much time as you’d like?
I often see marketing teams getting bogged down after onboarding an agency. The reason is this: Most agencies don’t exist to take work off of your plate; they exist to add capability and improve results, and those results require your management and support to integrate.
To help make sense of the statement above and reasoning behind structures I’m going to propose, consider the table below. It outlines the levels of work in your department – from tactical to leadership – and the impact an agency has at each level.
Do you see why your work doesn’t go down when you hire agency support? Agencies simply shift your work into new areas! They even increase work in certain phases, because regardless of the size of your company, you must interface with various groups to achieve results.
This is a great thing, though! This is what a growing department feels like. As a department leader, you should be spending much more of your time toward the bottom of the Levels of Work table – strategy, integration and leadership – as this is where you provide the most value and leverage.
How can you structure your department to improve results and smooth your agency engagement?
As your department grows, demands on your time will increase, and the only release valve is structure. These five options for structuring your department appropriately will free your time for leadership, integration and strategy:
The Generalist Hire
This structure is the most common I’ve seen and is best for small, growing departments. In this structure, you hire or promote someone to report directly to you. The ideal person for this role is someone with two or more years of experience in your functional area who is hungry to advance. She will aggregate reporting, action items and due dates and help gain the interdepartmental cooperation. Although she will manage the agency relationship, the agency will still report to you, just less frequently.
With this structure, however, you run the risk of becoming too disengaged from the work. Because the Generalist Hire frees your time from the day-to-day details, however, you will be able to focus more on strategy, integration and leadership.
The Internal Expert
I only see this structure in larger companies with a lot of resources and a lot of work. With this structure, you will hire one or more subject-matter experts who work directly with a supporting agency. For example, a demand generation expert would handle your PPC/SEO agency, lead management agency and content creation agency, with very little involvement from you.
The ideal person for this role is an established expert with 5+ years in a non-entry level role. Internal Experts manages their agencies but also own their entire function, including being responsible to you for performance. Because they are subject matter experts, they can double-check agency recommendations. This is a more expensive structure than that of The Generalist, and because these hires will have a large impact on your department, it’s important to make them carefully.
Note that I often get asked why you need an agency when you have an internal expert, and my response is always the same: It’s a full-time job simply promoting your function internally, handling internal communication/meetings and strategy. Just think about budget planning season at your company! Your internal expert will have too little time to focus on tactical work and project management work and they need agency support.
The Project Manager or Vendor Manager
I rarely see this structure used, but it does make sense if you’ve hired multiple freelancers to build your department or if you’ve hired an agency that focuses more on tactical work than strategy.
With this structure, you hire a project manager who reports directly to you and serves as the main day-to-day contact with the agencies. This could be an entry-level role or an established project manager, depending on the complexity of your department. His primary responsibilities will simply be aggregating action items and making sure they get done. This structure is a low-cost option that requires very little training, but you won’t be getting much help with reporting, strategy or performance management.
The Meeting Re-Format
I don’t see this done as often as it should be. If you don’t have resources for a new hire, sometimes the next best option is to take a critical look at your meeting format so you can streamline. This requires no extra budget, just a little thought. Ask yourself: What would happen if we only had a monthly meeting? Can I create a consistent agenda format?
Consider three meeting formats for your agencies: a quarterly business review to discuss strategy; monthly meetings to review performance and address roadblocks; and 15-minute mid-month meetings to touch base on action items.
A Final Word
While good agencies bring expertise, proven processes and results you couldn't build on your own, they need to be managed and supported. Agencies aren’t built to save you time but to drive results.
Nick Herinckx is the published, tech-savvy CEO of Obility Consulting, a fast growing online marketing agency focused on helping B2B companies with long sales cycles drive pipeline, increase sales and track marketing's efforts to revenue.