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Alistair Norman

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Alistair Norman

Feb 20, 2018

How to manage the account relationship with your content marketing agency


Working with a content marketing agency is great but, suffice to say, it takes some managing. Discover the five key elements of account management that will ensure your agency move mountains for you in return.

In the previous section of Stripped Bare, we got to grips with the glossary of content marketeers, exploring the sector’s wide variety of stock acronyms.

In this week's piece, we’ll be taking a deep-dive into the account management (AM) function. And see how you, as a client, can get the most out of the relationship — with TP’s take on the service side of marketing. The AM function. Part of the content marketing model since the beginning of time.

If you were to write up a list of content marketing agencies, you could identify the bad apples by their account management — in the worst agencies it’s more bag carrier than strategic asset.

But in the best, AM adds value across the whole process. It keeps strategies straight, calendars clocked, and the whole process on track in an atmosphere of openness and continuous improvement.

If you’re like us, you’ve probably got some geeky friends who do database design. It’s work with a few ground rules regarding how chunks of data interact. A one-to-many relationship is good. A many-to-one relationship works, too. But a many-to-many relationship — well, that’s where unexpected things start to happen.

It’s the same in client-agency relationships. If everyone on the client side is talking to everyone on the agency side, all the time, your content marketing is going to feel like swimming through corn syrup. But with these simple rules and a bit of expectation-setting, you can overcome the usual content marketing challenges and avoid self-destruction, oh, and have every project run like a dream.

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The first element: Managing expectations

Account management is expectation management. If you don’t know what your content marketing agency’s doing, how can you assess their work? So the first thing to look for in your content marketing agency is how well they build shared understanding.

Do you have a schedule of catch-ups in the calendar, or specific days each month or quarter to review your progress? Has the agency appointed someone with the authority and influence to lead the internal team from project to project?

Ask for names and dates, and agree on milestones. You shouldn’t have to remind your agency of review meetings, or persuade them to turn up. So first, look for a way to facilitate ongoing, open communication.

Set monthly, quarterly, and ad-hoc meetings around important decisions and performance well in advance. That’ll keep your expectations in line — and position your agency to exceed them!

The second element: Managing stakeholders

Behind each side’s main contact stands an unruly line of people with an interest in every project’s outcomes — like the project sponsor and content marketinh committee. So the second big job of account management is to maintain effective communication with them.

This is where some client-agency relationships suffer their greatest breakdowns. Many a deadline has been shot to smithereens by someone who lurked silently on every conference call, then threw a spanner in the works at the last minute. If that’s happening on your side, make time to engage with everyone ahead of critical deadlines… and don’t be afraid to call time on someone whose chicanery isn’t adding value. It’s as simple as making sure everyone knows their role. Don’t let too many cooks spoil a great content marketing broth.

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The third element: Managing time

We all have 24 hours in a day. And to fill those hours effectively, best practice is to know what you’re doing in those hours ahead of time. That’s the third way to get great work from your marketing agency. Give notice of each new work requirement, ask for a solid commitment date from your account manager, and ask for regular updates in return.

Such discipline will win you a “confirmed slot” in your agency’s work schedule, making sure your project is well-resourced and inked on the calendar. You won’t be bumped aside for anyone else — and nor will you do any bumping of your own to another client of the agency.

With that bargain kept, your work will be completed, on time, on budget, and with a positive outcome. No rush jobs, no last-minute pleas. It’s the best way to work.

The fourth element: Managing information

Content marketing projects, especially the first ones for a client, generate lots of information... which the account management function will organize and communicate to you. So perhaps the top tip for today’s client is: read your emails, IMs, Slack, WhatsApp (and so on). Next top tip: when your agency schedules weekly call updates... turn up!

A good agency will drop you meeting agendas and result reports well in advance of discussions. Try to keep up with them, and make sure you know the content of each call before you dial in.

Also, aim to get good at giving feedback. If something’s annoying you, let the agency know — they may be oblivious! If there’s a good working relationship no account manager will take umbrage; by contrast, they’ll welcome tips that make them more effective. Conversely, if your agency is delighting you (we always try for the high bar) tell them so. And make sure their boss knows, too. We’re human; we enjoy praise as much as anybody else.

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The fifth element: Managing money

Lastly, the little matter of cash. The legal meaning of the term “agency” is specific. It means someone who takes responsibility for something else. You’re not paying your marketing agency simply for its staff’s salaries; you’re paying for stuff they have to pay for, like external expertise, media owners, and building costs. Often, they have to pay for these things long before you reimburse.

So as a last point, show an interest in getting your agency paid. It’ll make them feel valued and appreciated, and you’ll get better work as a result: every agency loves a client who pays on time.  

Now it’s your turn to brave the elements…

So there you have it — the five elements of exceptional account management. All require a bit of discipline — but none of them are hard. Make them habits, and you’ll instantly move to the top of your marketing agency’s client list. Great agencies want clients like you. And it all starts with your approach to the nuts and bolts of account management.

Your account management will support you throughout the entire content marketing process, but they’re not the only team you can lean on to achieve success. Next up, we'll show you the secrets of our content process and why you’re safe in the hands of our creatives.

Good account management is essential to content marketing success on both agency- and client-side. Sharpen up your knowledge of the latest industry trends by downloading:  Content Marketing in the UK 2018: Benchmarks, budgets, and trends.

Topics: Content Marketing Working with a content marketing agency

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