“Hire a brand marketing agency? Isn’t marketing your job?”
Led Zeppelin might have titled this topic “The Brand Marketing Battle of Evermore.”
Since the beginning of time, brand marketing managers have had to sell their bosses on the idea of bringing in outside strategic and creative resources to help gather market intelligence, name/launch a product or execute a global campaign. So, how do you navigate the roadblocks that are sure to come your way when it’s time to onboard your strategic and creative agency of choice?
Below are eight tips for brand marketing professionals on how to handle common “agency objections.”
Think of the selling process as three distinct steps: Selling the Idea, Selling your Agency and Hitting the Ground Running.
Step 1: Selling the Idea
Some people will tell you to pursue a path that leads to the boss thinking that it was her/his idea to hire an outside brand marketing agency. While this plan has merit, in practice, it also can be a longer-term sell – which may or may not meet your project timeline. Plus, we would advocate taking the initiative and the responsibility to not only put forth the idea but to be accountable for the results.
Objection: We don’t have the budget
This false premise results in a false choice, i.e., ”We have no budget, therefore we can’t do anything.” Reframe the conversation around a real and measurable premise: what is the cost of failure? It’s amazing how motivating the thought of missing a revenue target, a launch date or a performance-tied bonus can be to help fast track conversations and get your brand marketing initiatives moving.
Objection: We already have a brand marketing agency of record/MSA—let’s use them.
Chances are, if you are aware of an agency of record (AOR) for your company and you are looking for a different marketing resource, there are several compelling reasons why. Some of the most common reasons we hear are: the AOR is not responsive/too bureaucratic; the AOR doesn’t have the skill sets/expertise we need; our division (or group) is too small to get any attention from the AOR. Translating those drivers into a compelling talk track might look like this. “(Insert agency name) is nimble and has the (insert expertise here) we need to get this done quickly and cost-effectively. Besides, it’s too small potatoes for our AOR to give the attention that is needed to the project.”
Objection: Why don’t we use our in-house staff/resources?
Remember, the time and cost-effectiveness card is only part of the value proposition of your chosen creative agency. Their subject matter expertise and proven ability to execute are important differentiators. In addition, when a fresh and innovative perspective is needed to establish a new vision, it’s much more difficult to get that from a staff that’s been living and executing the “old way” for a long time.
Objection: I have a (daughter/nephew/cousin) that is a (web designer/graphic designer/copywriter).
By this point, you’re pretty close to establishing the beachhead that you need to hire outside help. However, the cost-effectiveness bug is still in your boss’ ear. Hiring a one-person shop – much less a relative of the boss – is fraught with risk. The key here is in communicating that only an experienced brand marketing team (with redundant capabilities) truly makes sense for a project of this importance and visibility. Consider the question but use only in the case of emergency, “God forbid…but what if (your nephew) gets hit by a bus? We’d be up a creek.”
Step 2: Selling your Agency
Okay – so once you’ve sold your boss on the idea of hiring an outside brand marketing agency (Bravo!), now you have to convince him/her to let you hire your agency. Keep in mind, there are still more potential objections in this phase than can be found in your typical Law and Order episode, but we can help you get the desired verdict.
Objection: Have they ever worked in our space/do they know our company, industry, etc.?
It’s interesting. Some companies will only hire brand marketing agencies that previously have worked in their industry, while others really value a completely unique, objective perspective. Depending on which side of the fence your preferred agency falls, a compelling case can be made either way. You’re either arguing “experience” or “freshness” and, if you’re lucky, you can argue both.
Objection: We don’t have time to educate them/get them up to speed.
This is a classic intractable statement that fells many requests – typically heard from larger organizations and/or complex businesses. One of the best ways you can disarm this bomb: “(insert agency name) has over XX years experience; I’ve seen them execute far more complex projects in less time. Would you like to review a case study? I’d be happy to share a few or have them in for a brief meeting so you can meet them yourself.”
Objection: If we go down this path, we need to put it out to bid to 3 brand marketing firms.
If you are confronted with this situation, it might be unavoidable per some companies’ entrenched procurement processes. In that case, you have to trust that your agency shines and emerges victorious. One possible workaround is to suggest a small “starter” brand marketing project and see what the agency can do. Make sure the total project budget comes in “under the radar” that can be approved at the departmental level. Once a small success is established, your boss’ need to put a larger project out for bid is greatly diminished as your company now has a proven entity it can use.
Step 3: Hitting the Ground Running
Now that you’ve verified the need and qualified your brand marketing agency, you have to clear the last hurdle – getting the project started. The larger the organization, the more challenging it can be to get the key players, influencers and decision makers together for the all-important kickoff meeting.
Objection: We’ll never be able to get the executive team together for a meeting.
Without a doubt, getting input, buy-in and feedback from your internal champions and stakeholders is critical to your project’s success. Two techniques can help you work around the inevitable kickoff meeting scheduling conflicts: 1) Send out a pre-meeting questionnaire to gather input on key discussion points for those who can’t attend. 2) Create a unique URL where the presentation, summary input and action items can be viewed post meeting. In these ways, you’re less dependent on people needing to be “in the room” in order to participate in the process.
With these tips in mind, we have no doubt that in no time the brand marketing Battle of Evermore will be won and she’ll be buying a highly-differentiated, well-positioned stairway… to heaven.