If you’re signing on with an agency, you’re hopefully entering the engagement with some kind of goal already in mind.
More traffic, more revenue, and lower cost are common places where our discovery calls begin. That’s not a bad start. But setting a meaningful goal or set of goals for an engagement is essential for both the agency being contracted and the brand hiring the agency.
When goal-setting goes right, both parties have a north star to point to as they work to set and meet expectations. When that central point of focus is absent or misaligned, you can bet that one side of the relationship will be left unfulfilled.
Both the agency and the brand must commit to meaningful goal setting for their work together. This should happen before any work begins and should be continuously refined over the entire course of a brand-agency engagement.
Here’s how to get it right.
Identify the Most Important Outcome
Marketing outcomes typically fall into three buckets:
- Volume-based (like site visitors or revenue changes)
- Efficiency-based (like conversation rate or cost per acquisition changes)
- Functionality-based (think site migrations or usability-focused work)
Identify the single most important outcome as it relates to your engagement. The desired outcome must be relevant, realistic, and measurable. Missing any one of those pieces will strain both the work and the relationship.
The desired outcome identified must be relevant to the work scoped; alignment there is crucial. Can the work scoped actually drive the desired outcome? If the answer is ‘no,’ adjust the work scoped or your desired outcome.
When performance, budget, and turnaround time expectations don’t align, realistic outcomes slip away. It’s on both the brand and the agency to meet in the middle to align on what’s realistic. Agencies: if what you’re signing up for isn’t realistic, don’t take on the work. Stepping away or rescoping will save you a ton of time and energy.
After identifying a relevant and realistic outcome, ensure that you can measure progress accurately. Measurement difficulty varies based on the work. It can be as simple as following a linear timetable, or it can be as intricate as building proper attribution for online and offline consumers across a variety of marketing channels and devices. Either way, make sure there is a proper plan to collect and interpret data.
Creating relevant, realistic, and measurable projections will start to mold a solid top-level outcome, but setting a relative performance component clarifies the goal further. Couple your desired result with a relative parameter like:
- Period over period time comparisons (YoY, QoQ, MoM)
- Static checkpoints
- Industry benchmarks
When the desired outcome is paired with a relative parameter, you’ve got a clear endpoint to carry the working relationship forward.
Identifying a core outcome isn’t a major feat to write home about, but we often see marketers on both the brand and agency side set and agree to irrelevant, unachievable, and unmeasurable goals. Those missteps end in relationship and engagement turmoil.
Relevant, realistic, and measurable is the key to all of it. If you can’t come to an agreement here, the relationship doesn’t stand a chance.
Identify Secondary Metrics
Secondary metrics act as indicators towards your top-level outcome.
Looking higher in the marketing funnel or towards acquisition and behavior results, as primary desired outcomes tend to be conversion-based, is a good place to find secondary metrics. Timelines as milestones serve as good checkpoints for project-based linear work.
These are the trigger points where marketers can see how their smaller wins level up to impact the larger picture. Similar to your core desired outcome, they must be relevant, realistic, and measurable.
Once you’ve set those metrics for success, think about how to build effective dashboards to tell the story.
Set a Timeline
Assign a timeline to your top-level desired outcome. Just like the outcome identified, your timeline needs to be relevant, realistic, and measurable.
The relevance and measurability is pretty straightforward here, but the timeline for the work needs to be realistic. And there must be alignment between the agency and brand on what’s realistic. Budget and turnaround times are the usual culprits that impinge on realistic expectations.
Relationships fail when partners on either end of the engagement aren’t honest about getting the work done on a realistic timeline. For each party to get the most from each other, timelines should be mutually agreed to, not dictated by a singular party.
Get Buy-in From the Top
At this point, the brand-agency partnership should be aligned with a nice, neat, top-level desired outcome, a handful of secondary checkpoints, a clear tracking plan, and a timeline for the outcome to be achieved.
It always works nicely and neatly like that, right?
Getting buy-in from top-level decision-makers is the last step before your work should kick-off. And that buy-in should come from leaders on both the agency and brand side. Priorities will always shift during the course of an engagement. But if true buy-in comes from an executive level, you’ll start your engagement in a better place.
Get sign-off on your desired outcome, timeline, and budget before any work begins.
Once that’s done, it’s time to jump in.
Report and Course-Correct
Once you’re into the engagement, all work should tie back to the primary and secondary desired outcomes and metrics.
Work roadmaps, deliverables, meetings, and reports should all focus on how the work influences the desired outcomes. When priorities shift, course-correct to what builds your outcome most effectively.
Brands and agencies working together can often lose sight of the outcome they set off to reach. Identifying that the work is shifting away from the desired outcome is crucial. When it does, make sure to go back to the top to clarify or set a new course if needed.
Over the course of an engagement, factors always change. Budgets, technology for measurement, timelines, and buy-in constantly push and pull on each other. Through that, those leading the brand and agency engagement have to stay aligned on a clear outcome. When that happens, strong brand-agency engagements can establish meaningful marketing goals, refine strategy into actionable tactics, maintain the agility to course-correct, and set themselves up in the best way to hit desired outcomes.
Up next: How Clients Can Hold Their Agencies Accountable.