Working with a new edu agency partner is always exciting – there are so many possibilities in how they might help your campuses or programs, new strategies and tactics they can introduce to help with your enrollment goals, and fresh ways they can look at your potential student data. There is plenty of advice on how to go about picking a NEW agency partner – but what is the best way to evaluate an agency you have worked with for a while? Whether you should retain and continue an agency partnership is a key component to marketing success, as looking for a new partner can be time and cost-consuming – but so can working with an agency that isn’t meeting your needs. So what qualities should you look for to consider retaining an agency and potentially expanding a relationship? Let’s take a look at a few.
1. The agency team communicates and conducts work in a style that is best for you.
We all fall into our communication patterns – typing out paragraphs in an email when we could share the same information in a 30 minute phone call, forgoing a video call for a phone call because it seems easier, etc. Ultimately, a good agency partner should be one that knows your communication style and provides you information via that method or medium. Does your campus president like a one-page summary of campaigns? Does your head of enrollment services prefer an in-person meeting to hear the latest digital advertising results? No matter what the channel is for information, your agency should be providing you what you need in the way you need it – not only to be successful but to serve as a good advocate for the marketing dollars you are shepherding with the agency.
2. All the systems the agency uses should talk to each other and to your systems.
In an ideal world, your CRM system would be able to talk to Google Analytics, and to your lead scoring system, and any of the other systems your agency or your school uses. While it might not always be possible, your agency partner should be proactively looking for ways to make these connections to ensure better symmetry between campaigns and better information for you. The links between these platforms will make for more efficient and effective data, enabling you to make better marketing decisions – even beyond what you might be doing with your chosen agency.
3. The agency is showing you growth and progress for your campaigns – and not only in conversions.
Conversions are important and are usually the first and most key metric that your agency will be working towards. But does your agency understand your other goals and is actively pursuing them? Are they working to ensure that they are growing your brand and campaigns in other areas beyond conversions? Planning for and showing you growth – in size and scope of campaigns, in types of ad copy and landing pages tested, of new tactics researched and deployed, in new content developed for your site – should all be a part of a longer-term agency relationship. Learnings from conversions should be used to support these growth opportunities – which will lead to standing out in an ultra-competitive market.
4. Conversations are more strategy-based than tactical based – and they are happening on a regular basis.
We’ll say it – if you aren’t hearing from your agency on a regular basis they aren’t a good partner for you. But even if you are hearing from them, conversations should have evolved over time from the early days of talking straight tactics to discussing longer-term strategies and goals. The data collected from tactical campaigns won’t have the biggest impact it can if it isn’t used to inform new campaign strategies. A data table in a report or shared on a phone call loses some of its appeal if there isn’t a companion set of recommendations to go along with it – for current and future campaigns. Good partners should be not only pulling and analyzing those insights often but proactively sharing them with you each time you speak with them to get regular campaign updates. Agencies that do this are showing you that they are thinking in the long-term for you and want to help not only meet your marketing goals but your business goals.
5. You feel like you know the team and have built a relationship with them.
Knowing your agency team is key to feeling like you have a true partner who is working towards the same goals as you are – not just another vendor who may or may not be utilizing your time and budget wisely. If you know the names of your team members and their roles and responsibilities, a better connection is formed – and better connections lead to better work.
6. The agency understands your goals and maps all strategies and tactics back to those goals.
The greatest campaigns in the world don’t mean a whole lot if they aren’t actually achieving your school’s goals. Your agency might not be a fit for you if you feel like they are recommending tactics and strategies that seem generic or “copy and pasted” from other places – and of course, aren’t mapping back to your ultimate goals. A good agency partner will always have meeting your goals as the main driver of campaigns – and sometimes to do so means getting creative. Plans and account tweaks should be formulated with those goals in mind, and all recommendations and insights centered around them. Ideally, goals are known inside and out by your current team, and shouldn’t have to be reiterated (unless they have changed). A good partner will also make sure to check in with you on a regular basis to ensure that your goals remain the same, and be honest with you if a tactic that is suggested by someone isn’t a fit to achieve what you are looking for (even if that tactic would help bring business into the agency).
7. The agency is proactive vs. reactive
The digital space changes all the time and education choices for students grows more competitive every day. The best agency partners are always monitoring trends – both in the digital industry and the education space – making you aware of them, and sharing recommendations on how best to utilize those trends to reach your ideal students. Good agency partners should proactively bring you plans and recommendations for all the tactics and strategies they deploy – from refreshing ad copy, to campaigns around enrollment cycles, to supporting the launch of new programs or campus locations. Agencies that are reactive make it difficult for you to reach those ideal students and can put you at a disadvantage against your competitors – which can cost you more time and dollars.
8. Reports and recommendations go beyond the data to tell the story of your campaigns.
Marketing should always be data-driven, as data doesn’t lie – it tells you what is happening with your dollars in a particular time frame. But data without context is just numbers – it makes it difficult to know what to do with the information if the story of those campaigns (or dollars) isn’t shared along with the data. These two pieces – story and numbers – work together to give the information you and your agency needs to make informed choices. Story without data or data without story leaves a critical piece of the marketing puzzle out. And story doesn’t mean not transparent – in fact, story often adds additional transparency to campaigns and helps explain both what is going well and where there is an opportunity for improvement. Story helps contextualize everything from campaign experiments to new tactics deployed and their effectiveness. Agencies that ensure you know both story and data, and that takes the time to share that with you and ensure it is understood, are partners that are good stewards of your marketing campaigns.
A great agency partnership can make the difference not only in results and achieving your goals, but also in the ease of your day to day workflow. By setting criteria to regularly evaluate your current agencies not only on performance but also on your actual relationship, can help make sure that you have the best partner alongside your team.
Want to know more about achieving success in digital higher ed marketing? Let’s talk.