How to interact with interactive ad agencies

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Even the savviest b-to-b marketers can run into snags when working with interactive agencies to create an online campaign. Many marketers have misconceptions about their options online. (Yes, there’s much more than banner advertising.) Others sometimes are so fixated on a strategy or message, they may turn a deaf ear to an agency with expertise in that medium that might have better ideas.

"Online marketing campaigns aren’t about reinventing the wheel," said Jennifer DeVoe, CEO of White Horse Interactive, a Portland, Ore., Web marketing and Web development firm.

Most b-to-b online campaigns attempt to achieve the same goal as traditional marketing efforts, such as direct mail. The objective in most cases is to encourage relationship building with customers that ultimately lead to more sales, she said. The major difference is that many marketers aren’t yet comfortable with crafting a marketing campaign on the Internet and lack an understanding of how the medium can be optimized.

DeVoe suggests the following tips to help marketers engage productively with an interactive agency and get the most out of an online campaign.

•Marketers should bring to their interactive agency: a clear idea of the audience they’re trying to reach, with as much demographic detail as possible; a definition of the campaign’s goals; and a firm idea of how much money can be spent on the effort.

•Agencies should help marketers understand the Internet landscape and all the opportunities and strategies available, DeVoe said. A multitiered approach to most campaigns usually is the most successful, and an agency should help define which combination of tools can work best for the client, whether it’s acquisition e-mail, retention e-mail, affiliate marketing programs or link-sharing opportunities. Banner advertising sometimes is the least important part of a strategy, though it can be used wisely as well.

•An agency also should provide marketers with quantitative and qualitative measurements to demonstrate if a campaign is working well or to identify problems. If an agency recommends retention e-mail as one tool, it should be able to provide the technology to measure success (or involve another vendor for that piece).

•One account executive at the agency should be in charge of the campaign and should be in contact regularly to keep the marketer abreast of its progress. Because there is a longer response cycle to Internet marketing efforts in the b-to-b space (compared with business-to-consumer efforts), marketers should expect weekly updates from their agency contact after the launch, DeVoe said. The campaign also should be in a constant state of refinement, in which the agency can quickly make changes.

•Opinions are good, but leave the message details to the agency. Marketers are encouraged to have opinions about the tone and vision surrounding an online campaign, DeVoe said. However, they should be open to collaborative solutions with the agency and think about involving the agency early on in the process before ideas are firmly set. Marketers often miss the mark on creating the actual words or visual message because they can’t view how that message is perceived from the audience perspective, she said. A good agency will provide that point of view but work with the marketer to ensure it matches the campaign goals.

•Finally, a word about cost. Most agencies separate any media buying costs from the creative component, and the client reimburses the agency for the buys that occur. All costs should be negotiated upfront so the agency understands how much the client can spend before designing a marketing solution.

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