As a network we recognise how important agencies are to win new business, grow existing client budgets and diversify into different verticals. And yet, something about the dynamics of this relationship isn’t quite working. I surely can't be the only one who has thought this? Whilst a lot of relationships work well, on occasion I can't help but think that there must be an easier way for us to work together. No doubt agencies also feel the same way. So I've put together this blog to outline where I feel we could help each other out - after all it's in all our best interests to do so.
Trust and partnership
The basis to any great partnership is trust. Without this crucial element the relationship between an agency and the network will inevitably break down. I see evidence on an almost daily basis of the lack of trust that exists between networks and agencies. Often I am approached by agencies looking for a proposal. They want sales forecasts, recommendations and details on service levels. This is not a problem as we like to flex our creative muscle and really get under the skin of a client in order to recommend a campaign that is going to blow their socks off. Except we can't, because the agency won't share the client name, site data or anything else that might help to give us a steer. As a result anything we recommend will hold no weight with the client because it will be based on fantasy not fact, stats and good old data.
I'd like to take this opportunity to assure agencies that we don't want to steal their clients. We want to work with the agency, not against them. When we have direct advertiser relationships we work hard to try and become an extension of the brands marketing team, getting insights into all aspects of their business in order to drive continuous improvement for the affiliate programme. We would like to apply this same approach to working with agencies. In turn we can't generate the insight and creativity needed to continually push the programme forward and optimise client spend. Instead agency and network end up circling each other like wary jungle animals. It's exhausting and unproductive.
Data sharing and analytics
Ensuring that affiliate programmes get on an upward trajectory and stay that way comes down to understanding the customer journey - where customers are going to research/make decisions, via what devices, time of day etc. This information is invaluable in ensuring that we all understand where affiliates impact consumers and at what stage in order to ensure that publishers have the right content and offers. If we give publishers what they need then traffic and conversion rates will be higher. Everyone is a winner.
But to truly understand the customer journey we need access to a wide range of data. We can cross-reference our network data with that of publishers but we could build a more comprehensive picture if agencies were a little more forthcoming. In many instances agencies are the intermediary that can unlock the unknown around true affiliate performance and how it compares to the rest of the online marketing mix. There is a part to be played by both networks and agencies in sharing, understanding and acting upon this data. Rather than indulging in a game of 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine' how about we all share and share alike? Let's get some work done people!
This is something that is sometimes overlooked by agencies and networks and it’s fundamental for a client’s success. Direct communication between agency, network affiliate and client is key. Face-to-face meetings, calls, affiliate days and events are a must in terms of information sharing and strategy planning and hey it might not hurt to socialise with each other outside of the work – sure why not, we’re paying!
Strategy, Development and a Multichannel approach
Networks need to move away from the “affiliate only” standpoint and concentrating on the “here and now”. Whilst of course we should champion the channel and the affiliates within it, all too often there is a reluctance to see the wider environment of the advertiser and how the various channels interact. Direction tends to be day-to-day and month-to-month rather than thinking about the two to five year plan of the business and how the affiliate channel can play its part. Affiliate planning and development should be more focused on business strategy than tactical campaign activity. This can only come with networks, agencies and advertisers sharing information and taking a channel agnostic approach to determine the best course for the brand long term.
Imagine how much easier it would be for all concerned if we were able to work more productively together. Would be good wouldn't it? No more getting off the phone to a network and despairing at the level of detail they wanted, wondering why their proposal doesn't go into as much detail as you were hoping for or worrying that the data request a network has just made might be part of some secret plan to try and woo the client away. To grow our respective businesses, networks and agencies have to learn to play nicely with each other. Fact. So come on, how about that drink?