How to work successfully with a marketing agency in Vietnam

July 09, 2022 by Fourdozen

How to work successfully with a marketing agency in Vietnam

July 09, 2022 by Fourdozen

So you’ve decided that you want to hire an agency. There’s many reasons that independent business owners and executives opt to work with a marketing agency rather than use their in-house team. In most cases, businesses choose to work with an agency in order to supplement their own team with capacities they don’t have, such as with content creation, public relations, or advertising, for example. But not all agency relationships end up working out as expected. This article explores some of the common pitfalls that companies fall into when hiring a new agency, and how to avoid them.

Start by understanding what you want

The most common problem we hear from marketing agencies in Vietnam is that their clients often don’t know what they really want. But how can this be? By the time a client begins working with an agency, they’ve gone through an entire sales process, and have negotiated a contract that clearly outlines expectations. There have been phone calls, meetings, and plenty of discussions. So everyone is on the same page, right? Well, not always.

In our experience, clients often have plenty of needs, but define them poorly. As part of the sales process, agencies will work to translate what a client says into a contract that defines the scope of work and the exact deliverables. But, even once this work is done, it’s not uncommon for clients to ask for things that are out of scope, or never came up during the initial sales process. This may be because the clients are sticking to a vision in their heads, rather than the words on paper–even if they’ve signed that document. More often than not, it’s also a sign that the client doesn’t yet understand their own needs, and were making assumptions that were not shared with the agency. 

Define your wants in clear language

Thus, the first step for successfully working with an agency is for the client to get clear on what it is they want, specifically. Often we hear non-specific language such as, “I need a marketing team to help us out on social media with our bar,” when what they really mean is that they want help promoting their weekly events. But even “we need help with promoting our weekly events” is not specific enough.

It can be challenging for people seeking to hire a marketing agency to get specific about their wants and needs, but it is crucial. A good agency can help with this, by treating the sales process as a way to help clients drill down into those wants and needs—it’s entirely possible that the sales conversation will be the first time that a client has ever been prompted to articulate what their goals are and how they’d like to achieve them. But even if a well-run sales process can help, it’s ultimately the client’s responsibility to articulate their needs to the prospective agency. It is, after all, their business.

We recommend that all of our clients spend some time doing strategic thinking about their wants and needs, and try to get as specific as possible. We won’t pitch a client until they’re clear, and until we feel clear.

Create mutual understanding with specifics

Once your needs are defined, the next step is to come to a mutual understanding of how to operationalize them with real world actions. For example, the vague “I need a marketing team to help us out on social media with our bar” can become specific: “I need to create photo and video content enough for 3 posts each week on Facebook and Instagram to promote events at our venue, and I need help running 1 ad each week to go with it.” Now we’re getting somewhere. 

As a client, you’ll get more from your agency, and keep a strong agency relationship, if you identify specifically what you want. The way to do this is to think in terms of concrete deliverables (what “things” are you getting from the agency) that have numbers attached to them (how many of those things are you getting) and deadlines (when are you getting those things). 

As a business owner or marketing manager, you know what you need to accomplish. Maybe you own a restaurant. You’re going to be laser-focused on getting people into the restaurant each day. Maybe your daily covers have been lagging and you feel like you need a marketing agency to help out. In your head you’re thinking, “Let’s hire a marketing agency to help me bring more diners into the restaurant.” This may be fine as a top level goal, but it won’t get you good results working with an agency unless you take the time to operationalize it, and decide what exactly it is you want the agency to do.

Non-specific goals like the above example can hurt the client-agency relationship in a number of ways:

  • The agency won’t know what it needs to do.
  • The agency will be judged on something it doesn’t really have control over.
  • The client will feel it isn’t getting what it paid for.
  • The scope of the project can change rapidly from what was discussed, which will make it harder for your agency to succeed.

If you want to set your agency relationship up for success, get specific about what you want, and be realistic. If you can’t bring more customers to the restaurant that you founded, then what makes you think hiring a marketing agency will work? Think specifically about where they can help you. Maybe you need a video to show off your great product. Maybe you want to run a series of advertisements on Facebook to get more table bookings. Perhaps you need to get a few features in local media to increase attention on your restaurant. Or, maybe you just want help doing some copywriting for your social media posts, since you already have great pictures. Figuring that out will go a long way to preparing you for success.

Make sure your team is all on the same page

The second major problem we see in the client-agency relationship in Vietnam has to do with how the relationship with the agency is actually handled. We commonly see executives who like to select the marketing agency themselves, but then hand off management of that relationship to a subordinate staffer who had little involvement in the process. This can create a number of issues:

  • Even if the client has gotten specific about goals and deliverables, and written that into a contract, the client’s marketing team that was not involved in the agency selection process can be unclear about what the project involves and what the deliverables are.
  • The client’s in-house marketing team or manager may feel threatened by an external agency, which can create an antagonistic relationship.
  • Communication between the executive and the agency ends up being filtered through a marcom manager, which can further muddy the waters in terms of communication.
  • The client’s marcom team can begin treating the agency as a subordinate employee and assign to them work that is out of scope, or irrelevant to the project. This slows the project down and can start a downward spiral in the relationship.
  • The client’s marcom team may not have management experience, but they are expected to help manage a relationship with an external agency. This cannot be overstated and is a problem that often rears its head.

This is one of the thorniest issues to remedy. We offer a few suggestions that can help mitigate these problems:

  • Involve your marcom team early in the agency selection process so they understand why you are hiring an agency, and for what specific purposes.
  • Reassure your macom team that an external agency is not meant as a replacement for them. One way to do this is by clearly articulating a division of responsibility between your internal team, and your service provider.
  • Have a kickoff meeting that involves all stakeholders and clearly goes over the contract, deliverables and scope of the project, so that everyone understands what will happen.
  • Convene regular meetings (we suggest bi-weekly) between the client and marketing agency, that involves all of the stakeholders (including both executives and the marcom team from the client side). We know nobody likes more meetings, but these are essential to help nurture and grow the relationship.
  • Ensure that the point person from the client side has managerial experience as well as customer service experience. Not everyone on your marketing team will be suited to managing a complex relationship with a vendor like a marketing agency. It should be someone that you trust, and who has demonstrated experience working successfully with vendors on complex projects.

Working with a marketing agency should be fun

All of that said, working with a marketing agency is supposed to be fun. Agencies help bring your ideas to life in ways that you won’t be able to do alone. Working with an agency will also help boost the capacity of your own in-house team. But, like any relationship, agency relationships require work and commitment.

At Fourdozen our relationships with clients are the most important part of our practice. We know that our creative ideas won’t ever see the light of day if our clients don’t trust us. Thus, we start every new project by building that foundation carefully, brick-by-brick, to ensure that all of our future work will be well supported.

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