As digital ad spending continues to climb, a growing number of agencies are working feverishly to build their digital capacity. For many smaller shops, growing internal capacity simply isn’t feasible — or at least not economical. To build their digital shops and leverage the booming business opportunity, most look to third-party service providers to fill in gaps with data service and management, analytics and measurement, and more. While this certainly makes sense, both from a functional and budget-conscious point of view, there are some pitfalls. Following a few simple rules of etiquette in working with third-party vendors will not only make for a better relationship, but also deliver better results for the client.
Move beyond the buyer-seller paradigm and focus on building healthy, mutually beneficial relationships with vendors. Your third-party providers can be valuable partners, and although it might seem obvious, they should be treated with proper business courtesy. That includes returning phone calls and sharing feedback on RFPs. I’m floored at how often some agencies will ask their vendors to jump through nearly impossible hoops, usually on the tightest of deadlines, to respond to an RFP. And, if they don’t get the job? Nothing. Crickets. It’s flat out rude. As an agency, you at least owe them the courtesy of an explanation on why they didn’t get the job or even an opportunity to respond with a counter proposal. Let’s face it, in this business the last thing you want to do is burn a bridge. You never know when you might be on the other side. Besides, it’s much easier to build a relationship when you don’t need one than to try and forge an accord when the clock is ticking.
The digital industry moves at a furious pace, but it’s imperative that you keep up with the newest trends, latest technologies and emerging service providers, even if you don’t have an immediate need. Why? Once again, it’s easier to build a solid partnership when you’re not under the gun and have the luxury of time and unrestricted creativity to explore your mutual potential. But, it also comes down to dollars and cents — small emerging vendors will likely be more flexible in offering innovative programs to agencies who are willing to put their new solution to the test, such as beta programs and ground floor pricing. I know it can be nearly impossible to find time to broaden your horizons, but you can start by attending local trade events, perusing industry articles and by not automatically blowing off every small vendor who calls simply because you’ve never heard of them before.
Bucket and Compare
With so many providers, it can be tough to make a straight-up apples-to-apples comparison as to who has the best solution. Is working with a cheaper, single-service provider better than working with a costlier, more diversified vendor? Would you be better off to buy direct? Start by understanding the core competencies of prospective vendors — what do they really do vs. what they can offer by way of their partners. Bucket them based on core capabilities. Who’s in their competitive space? And, how do they differentiate? Once you’ve organized the field, it becomes much easier to decide whether the one-stop shop approach is worth the extra investment to ease the logistics, which certainly may be the case, particularly in smaller agencies. Or, if you’ve got the capacity or pre-established relationships to fill in the gaps, there’s no point in paying for a bundled approach. Going the piecemeal route requires a keener eye toward platform compatibility, but if you have the capacity and internal resources, why not save the money? Your clients will love you for it.
With digital ad spending expected to exceed $100 billion worldwide by next year, digital agencies in particular (but marketing agencies of all stripes) are feeling the pressure to offer an increasingly broad range of services to their clients. While a few of the national conglomerates may have the capacity to handle just about any client request, their sheer size and complexity often puts them out of reach for smaller, more agile brands looking to make a splash in the digital space. This is where niche providers with a strong portfolio of partners can really shine by delivering a full complement of digital services in a more economical and transparent fashion. Fostering a true partnership with third-party vendors will ensure a win-win-win situation that benefits publishers, clients and agencies.
Originally published Dec 4, 2011 1:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017