Email marketing teams are under resourced. The result is that many companies rely partly or entirely on third parties for services. Services an important component of the email marketing vendor selection process.
In part one we looked in depth at using an ESP to provide your services work. This time we’ll do the same for (or perhaps I should say to) agencies.
Agencies are all about services
Agencies approach services from a fundamentally different perspective to ESPs. If ESPs view services as a necessary evil, services are what agencies are all about. Or more accurately, the client relationship is what agencies are all about.
Ensuring that your marketing objectives are met in a manner that pleases you and your boss is their raison d’être. When you look good, they look good. When you are happy, they’re happy. They know that you’re not locked into your agency the way you are to a technology platform and so they work hard to keep your business.
Up to date on the latest tactics and strategies
Agencies are, first and foremost, marketers up on the latest trends and nuances of marketing. A good agency’s cross-channel strategy will be outstanding, their ability to bring great thinking that crosses platforms and technologies will be second to none. They’re not afraid to bring new channels, new platforms and new ideas to the table.
Full service (email marketing) agencies would love to take everything out of your hands, that has upsides and downsides. They tend to pride themselves on their creative and content creation capabilities, areas most ESPs are only really beginning to explore, and they probably have a cabinet of awards to prove it.
Agencies and (email) platform execution
So what’s not to like? Agencies’ necessary evil is platform execution. On the one hand execution is the bread and butter for an agency — executing the marketing campaign is essential to what an agency does — but at the same time execution is not cool.
It has a tendency to be low margin, requires very specialized platform expertise and when you get it wrong the client always notices. Many marketing agencies would love to be like the strategic consultants, create grand plans and strategies for outrageous amounts of money and then leave it to someone else to execute. And therein lies the shortcoming of using an agency.
Most digital agencies are not well equipped to run your email marketing platform. Unlike the ESPs they don’t have the depth of experience with it or necessarily a really strong understanding of email. Consequently their ability to get the most out of your platform day to day may be below par.
How many email platforms does your agency know?
The reason that they might not get the most out of the email platform is fairly straightforward. There are a large number of email platforms and most agencies have a fairly small number of clients. Execution, as mentioned, is low margin work so it’s extremely tricky to hire and retain a pool of people with deep expertise across a wide range of platforms (presuming the agency retains a pool of experts at all).
Agencies take one of two approaches to this problem. Either they claim to be platform agnostic, which is code for “we’ll figure out whatever you want us to” or “we know a few platforms well and a bunch of others a bit”; or they claim platform speciality, which is code for “we know one platform pretty well”.
I know more than one agency that’s won multi-million dollar engagements on platforms that they do not know and then have scrambled to learn (or hire experts) before anyone caught on!
Evaluating Agency capabilities
When evaluating an agency it’s important to dig into their actual capabilities. They’ll probably have great testimonials from impressive names but find out exactly what they did for that company, when and who in the agency did it. Those individuals may no longer be with the agency or they may not be available to work on your business.
Digging into their technical skills and hands-on experience will pay dividends. Quite commonly you may find that the agency oversaw and ran the business but did not actually operate the platform itself and underestimates just how difficult it will be.
Agency strengths and Weaknesses
Agency strengths when looking at your email marketing are generally
- Account management
- Marketing strategy and
Their Achilles’ heels are depth of platform knowledge, channel and technical expertise.
In the final part we’ll look at how to mix and match ESPs, agencies and your internal team.