Agency 101: The Agency-Client Relationship for Beginners

When an agency begins to work with a client, there can be a disconnect between the two teams. Why do disconnects occur?

  • The team of client-side marketers may not understand the agency’s role.

  • Competitive dynamics may exist between the internal and agency team members.

  • The adjustment to onboarding the agency and establishing communication norms may take time.

Mending this disconnect requires a basic understanding of the typical agency-client relationship.

As connectors of brands and marketing agencies, we often encounter the same few questions among client-side marketers who struggle with their agency relationships:

  1. What is the discovery process?

  2. Why is it important for clients to be transparent about their budget?

  3. How much insight should clients give agencies about their internal processes and limitations?

  4. When it comes to delivering feedback, what do agencies expect from clients?

  5. What is a change order?

  6. Which factors should be included in an agency performance evaluation process?

  7. What is the most popular agency jargon used that client-side marketers should know?

  8. Who should clients expect to interact with at the marketing agency? Who will they not interact with?

We spoke with our partner, Swarm Agency, to get an agency’s perspective on the answers to these questions.

1. What is the discovery process?

The client discovery process begins with agencies scrubbing every bit of data/information from all available sources - website, analytics, content, social media channels, leads, conversion rates, interviews with key stakeholders, etc. - to truly understand the client.

During the discovery process, the agency’s project leader works with the client to outline the campaign strategy and goals. Agencies may conduct a competitor analysis and marketing asset audit to map the client’s existing content with the customer journey, pinpoint gaps in current marketing strategies, and uncover potential opportunities for the client.

It’s helpful to start with discoveries so that we understand the business problems you’re trying to solve before jumping into an engagement. This includes larger discussions like pain points and longer-term goals all the way down to analytics and media access. Having the big picture before we work with you helps make sure we all win.
— Alexa Ellis, VP, Marketing Implementation & Project Management | Swarm Agency

To set up an agency partner for success, clients should provide details about their marketing goals and tie those goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) - such as marketing qualified leads (MQLs) generated, sales qualified leads (SQLs) generated, conversion rate increase, average sale value increase, etc. - so that the agency team can best align itself with the brand’s overall goals.

2. Why is it important for clients to be transparent about their budget?

Client-side marketers seem to fear disclosing their true budget to agency partners. Not sharing the true budget constraints often backfires, causing the agency to spend more time on trimming the project down to fit an understated budget and less time on crafting the actual solution.

“It's best when clients let us know what resources we're working with at the start of any engagement, from budget to internal staff. We can customize a solution based on what you're working with instead of proposing solutions that aren't a fit with your resources.”

Alexa Ellis, VP, Marketing Implementation & Project Management | Swarm Agency

A transparent budget gives agencies the opportunity to accurately and fairly price projects and services. With a clear budget range in mind, agencies can plan and allocate resources more effectively and efficiently.    

3. How much insight should clients give agencies about their internal processes and limitations?

“There is always a give and take on timelines, budgets, account structure, and all of the other agency/client nuances. If you approach problem-solving in a collaborative manner and clients/agencies are upfront with their ‘deal breakers’ and ‘nice to haves,’ everyone should go into an engagement with their needs met.”

Alexa Ellis, VP, Marketing Implementation & Project Management | Swarm Agency

In short, the more details clients provide the agency with, the better. The more an agency understands about the client’s internal dynamics, the better it can act as an extension of the client’s team. Clients should offer as much clarity as possible when it comes to communicating the budget, timeline, responsiveness, delivery, and results.

4. When it comes to delivering feedback, what do agencies expect from clients?

Nathan Burns, a copywriter at Swarm, outlines the feedback process between agencies and clients:

“The type of client feedback we need varies on a case-by-case basis. If we need correction on technical product information, specific feedback is super helpful — we can make sure we're getting the right information out there.

If the work is more creative, specific or prescriptive, client feedback can have a negative impact on the quality of the work. Feedback in broad strokes is generally more helpful with conceptual work because it gives writers and designers the freedom to make something new and different. Every team has their own preferences, so the best way to prevent agency/client friction is to have open conversations about how feedback will be exchanged.”

Nathan Burns, Copywriter | Swarm Agency

Ensuring optimal agency performance requires clients to have an open, honest, and consistent dialogue around what they’re looking for from their partner. In order for the dialogue to stay frustration-free, however, there needs to be trust that the agency will present strategies based on their expertise and that the client will give honest and thorough feedback to the agency’s ideas.

5. What is a change order?

A change order is when an agency edits the initial statement of work (SOW) to account for additional time or work performed outside of the scope. This document is appropriate for the agency to create when unexpected challenges arise during the project.

6. Which factors should be included in an agency performance evaluation process?

Clients should continuously perform a temperature check on their partnerships to make sure they are satisfied with the agency’s work. Evaluate agency partners based on their:

  • Creativity

  • Innovativeness

  • Return on investment (ROI)

  • Collaboration

  • Strategic Approach

 

7. What is the most popular agency jargon used that client-side marketers should know?

Some popular advertising and marketing jargon in the agency-client world includes:

  • AOR (agency of record)

  • CRM (customer relationship management)

  • RFI ( request for information) and RFP (request for proposal)

For a more comprehensive list of marketing agency acronyms, click here.

Each service has its own set of jargon. In media, we’re talking about ‘conversions, CPA, PPC, CTR, programmatic,’ and more. For a website redesign, it might be ‘comps, UX, PSDs, ETAs, stakeholders, KPIs, CMS, CRM, third-party integrations, tracking,’ and more.
— Alexa Ellis, VP, Marketing Implementation & Project Management | Swarm Agency

8. Who should clients expect to interact with at the marketing agency? Who will they not interact with?

Typically, the client’s team will interact with the agency’s leadership, account head, and account manager. Sometimes the agency’s CEO may be involved in certain processes, or a project manager may act as an account manager - this depends on the marketing plan, agency size, and internal assignments. As a general rule, however, clients should not expect direct contact with agency personnel who execute on specialized job functions like copywriting or web development.


Whether you need help with digital marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, public relations, social media, a new marketing strategy or creative, this free guide will help you find and select a marketing agency.