How to Avoid a Business Culture Clash With Your Marketing Agency

If you're hiring a marketing agency, you should get along. Use these techniques to ensure a good fit.
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How bad can a business culture clash be between a client and their marketing agency? Well, it can actually make or break the relationship — one that you, as someone who needs marketing agency support, definitely want to be successful.

We all know that culture is more than skin deep, even when it comes to the little things — or the things that may seem little to an outsider. For instance, if you’re a Michigan fan, you may think twice before beginning a long-term relationship with an Ohio State fan. The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry goes beyond sports; it’s a clash of cultures. If you’re a cat person, are you really going to search for a dog person on a dating site?

Why is culture so important? It influences everything that employees do, whether it’s sending you an email or coordinating a major agency visit. And culture has a strong influence on how people develop relationships, both personal and professional.

So when it comes to choosing an industrial marketing agency, avoiding a business culture clash is critical — if you want to reap the rewards of a true partnership. To help you find the right agency, here are some questions you can use during your agency selection process to ensure that you’ll avoid a business culture clash down the line.

Preparing for Your Agency Search

When searching for a new agency, there are a few questions you may want to ask yourself early in the vetting process to avoid a business culture clash:

  • What made you end your last relationship with a marketing agency?
  • What are you looking for in the new, client-agency partnership?
  • How will the agency’s culture fit with your business processes and objectives?

Answering these questions will give you some added self-awareness so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

Identifying the Key Aspects of an Agency Culture

When we talk about business culture, what exactly do we mean? And what impacts can it have on the client-agency relationship?

It’s not really about dress code, for example. If your employees are required to wear business-casual attire to work every day, it’s entirely possible that you may have issues working with “creative” marketers sporting ripped T-shirts and worn-out blue jeans. But you could also get along fine with them, provided they do good work and work in a way that meshes with your business.

What you really need to know hinges on the agency’s mission (i.e., why they do what they do), their track record with other clients, their approach to collaboration and teamwork, and their ability to address your needs, rather than subjecting you to cookie-cutter programs.

Here are a few ways to get at these key aspects of an agency’s culture:

  • Mission or Approach – Start with their website. The agency’s mission statement is often a good indicator of the team’s values. The website may also feature team profiles and tell you something about their approach to marketing.
  • Client Retention – Are they chasing as many new clients as possible, or do they focus their energy on building long-term, client-agency partnerships? Ask about their track record when it comes to client retention.  
  • Transparency – Do they like to keep their marketing secrets behind closed doors, or do they prefer to bring clients into the process? Find out if they’re willing to share their knowledge during the client-agency partnership.
  • Teamwork – How do their team members work together? Do they collaborate on a regular basis? Ask them. Or, if you want to see for yourself — and it seems appropriate — request an on-site visit to observe how agency teams interact and to ensure the agency’s “vibe” meets your expectations.
  • Commitment – Ask about their commitment to customization and improvement. Do they follow the same marketing strategy blueprint for every client? Or do they question the status quo to regularly evaluate their own processes?

Questions an Agency Should Be Asking You 

Don’t hesitate to ask an agency you’re interviewing to describe their expectations when working with a new client. Their expectations are key to determining their working culture and approach. But any new agency should also be proactively asking you questions about your working culture. These questions may include:

  • Do you prefer to be heavily involved in the details surrounding each marketing project, such as a video shoot or a white paper?
  • How often do you want to be in communication once a project begins?
  • How do you prefer to stay in communication? Phone? Face-to-face online conferences? On-site visits?
  • How do you feel about the agency giving you advice on how to change your marketing strategy? Are you open to new ideas when it comes to your brand identity?
  • What does an ideal client-agency partnership look like to you?

Asking these sorts of questions will ensure both parties are on the same page before the partnership begins. After all, you will be working in close contact for several months at least. The agency will need to dig deep into your business operations to create the right marketing strategy and will likely work with multiple members of your team. If they aren’t asking these sorts of questions of you, that’s a big red flag.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Committing to a Marketing Agency

After you’ve had a chance to interview an agency, you may want to ask yourself a few questions about what you’ve learned. This exercise can be instructive if you want to find a partner that is least likely to provoke a business culture clash.

  • Would you feel comfortable introducing any of the agency’s team members to your employees?
  • How would you feel if one of the agency’s employees visited your home?
  • Do you feel comfortable visiting the agency at their base of operations?
  • What do you have in common, besides work? (Are they cat people or dog people?)
  • Would you enjoy going out with the agency team for dinner?

From Business Culture Clash to Compatibility

Every company has its own culture, and your agency will by no means be a copy of your business. (With an array of clients, it would be impossible for agencies to exactly match the culture of each one!) However, your two cultures should at least be compatible. If they’re not, you’re in for a long, rocky relationship that will likely frustrate both sides. 

That’s why it’s important to get the culture part of the client-agency relationship equation right — right from the start.

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