Truthiness and Getting Fired: What’s an Agency’s Role?
Ian Lurie Feb 15 2008
I may be engaging in excessive honesty in this post. If you’re a client, or thinking of becoming one, you’re getting a look at the closest thing to dirty laundry that Portent has. Some folks might tell me this is a bad idea. I disagree – there’s a valuable lesson here.
We got fired today.
Well, it was a mutual firing, actually. The reason: We were too slow to respond to requests for things like a new image on the home page, or edits to an existing page. The client wanted 24-hour-turnaround. We couldn’t deliver that. Our attempt to do so took away from our marketing efforts.
I said so, and we decided to go our separate ways.
Role Confusion = Unhappy Clients = You’re FIRED
So here’s the question: What’s the internet marketing agency’s role?
We’re not a job shop. We can do things like add graphics to web sites, and we often do because we’re the only ones who can. But that’s not our primary mission.
I don’t mean to imply that an internet marketing agency doesn’t build web pages. Of course we do. But we do so in the context of our real job:
- Formulate strategy.
- Execute the strategy.
- Assess the results and learn from it.
- Give great advice.We can’t be great marketers and efficiently provide on-demand site maintenance at the same time. The economies aren’t there: The same team that’s great at designing an effective landing page, setting up Google Analytics and running large campaigns can’t simultaneously perform 30-minute or 1-hour site maintenance tasks.If they do, mistakes and slip-ups are inevitable.
A Hard Lesson
In this case, we started to drift into the job shop role, and it destroyed the relationship.
We got some amazing results for the client: More leads (45% increase over 4 months) of higher quality and at a lower cost. That was our job.
So this is a hard lesson: If you settle into the role of site maintainer, the overarching goal is forgotten, and the successes get lost.
Separation of Church and State
You can keep your role a little clearer:
- Don’t start! If the client asks you to perform site maintenance, you can say ‘no’. But that’s not always reasonable. If no one else is available to make those essential SEO edits, chances are you’re going to have to do it.
- Bid separately. Set up a retainer that covers the marketing consulting. Then price everything else out on an hourly basis. This can be annoying, but it’ll clearly define the two roles.
- Build tools. If possible, provide your client with tools to let them maintain their own site. Again, this isn’t perfect. But for a few of our clients, moving pages such as their press section to a simple Movable Type template made a world of difference.
- Partner up. Partner with another firm that can handle the production work. The downside here: If they fail, you fail. So find someone you trust.
There’s no easy answer. After 13 years you’d think I’d have one. But you can’t keep big clients without doing some production work. And when they realize you can do all the work that drives them crazy, every client will pile it on.
So, my solution: In the mind of your clients, build a big, fat wall between your production and marketing functions. They must be kept separate.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More