Thursday, 30 August 2012

How to be a good client: 5 tips for working with digital agencies

An interesting trend I've noticed - as digital 'know-how' becomes more commonplace, companies are increasingly hesitant to work with a digital agency.

"It will cost how much?"

"really? It would take a fortnight?

This attitude isn't helpful, as in some cases an agency is often the best and cheapest option. It's a shame to let a lack of understanding - by both parties - get in the way of what could be a really exciting project with great results, so here are my top 5 tips for working with agencies:

1.  Pick the right one - it may sound simple but think hard about who you want to do the work. It will cost you time and money to hire another agency to unpick and redo a botched job. Let many agencies pitch, but don't be bullied into giving the contract to the agency with the most persistent Account Manager or Business Development guy. Mutual trust and respect is key here and you can tell a lot about their attitude to a project by initial conversations. Go with an agency that listens to your requirements from the outset, but also one who can contribute and build on your own ideas - it is this expertise and added value that you are paying for.

2. Write a good brief - even the best agencies aren't psychic and digital projects can be an especially tricky to verbalise if you're not at home discussing technology. If the end result is nothing like what you had envisaged, the chances are you haven't conveyed your ideas properly so it's worth taking the time to explain in writing (and face-to-face if possible) exactly what your aims are at the beginning. Clearly stating your desired message and target audience, your expectations and (at the risk of sounding wanky) 'what success looks like'. Don't be afraid to tell the agency how you expect this project to make you money!   

3. Agree costs and timings in writing upfront - ask for a written timeframe and a breakdown of costs. Any good digital agency will be doing this as standard, so be wary of one that tries to skip this bit! For larger projects there may be initial costs involved in a 'scoping' phase which is a legitimate request. The agency will need to dedicate man hours to planning and technical investigation to find out how best to implement your brief so if you decide not to go ahead with the project after this has taken place they will be out of pocket. Costs and timings are designed to help both parties, so it is also important not to erode trust by not sticking to agreed timeframes at your end, or quibbling over the bill later.

4. Respect experience - ultimately, an agency will do as you ask: you're the one paying the bill. The way to get the most from your money, however, is not to browbeat them into submission even when they advise against something. Account management will be fighting some arguments for you behind the scenes ("I don't care if you don't like the colour, it's our client's branding, work with it!") and they know how to pick their battles, so when they do take issue with something, it's for a good reason. They will tell you not to broadcast mass emails on a Friday afternoon (no-one reads them), not to use tiny fonts (it's against accessibility guidelines) and to place unsubscribe links at the bottom of things (its a legal requirement). They tell you this from years of research, experience and best practice so do take note.

5. Get good at giving feedback - once you have the first designs or wireframes in front of you is the point where you really get to show your worth as a client. The agency are twiddling their thumbs until you sign it off or send over amends, so you need to be prompt, but resist the temptation to dismiss with a "looks good" until you've fully appraised the work. I can say from experience - the most annoying thing a client can do is drip feed amend after amend, changing their mind several times and giving ambiguous instructions. Not only is it annoying it can be costly, undermine the relationship and prevent top quality work. Your job now is to give full, crystal clear feedback, within the agreed timeframe. Often it's easiest to annotate screengrabs of a website to avoid writing indecipherable directions like "in the top right bit of the second box there's a typo".If there are to be several rounds of amends set up a shared document such as an excel file with all the changes, which can be ticked off as completed or comments added.

If you've followed the above you should be on the way to a great and hopefully lasting relationship with your digital agency. If you don't follow the above you might find yourself on here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Menshn'd in Despatches

I'd thought about doing a post on Menshn back in June when it launched, but at the time the new social network - created by Louise Mensch - was only available to people living in the U.S.

The network was set up by the (then) Conservative MP, with the aim of filtering out the 'noise' found on Twitter and focussing debate around selected topics. Louise Mensch has now resigned from her seat in Corby and East Northamptonshire to spend more time with her family. Good for her - every woman makes tough choices about parenthood and I wholeheartedly support a woman's decision to bring up her children how she sees fit.

What does concern me, however, is the suggestion raised in this article that she might use this time to work on her new social networking business.

This should be another 'good for her' moment, surely? Women in business - yeehaa! But the problem is, I really don't like the concept of the network. It's based on the premise that there is a lot of 'noise' on Twitter, tweets that Mensch thinks aren't sticking to the point and therefore shouldn't be heard.

Her ideal would be to keep the discussion slick and filter out anything off topic, which (she has been keen to point out) would also create the perfect engaged environment for advertisers and marketers. Sometimes that does seem very tempting. I agree it can be infuriating trying to make a point and that point hitting a wall of spam and trolls.

But surely the point of Twitter is that it's democratic? Everyone has a voice and everyone is free to listen to (or follow) whoever they choose. If you take away the destractions, the random input, the humour, you lose some of the beauty of Twitter and a lot of the character.

There are already a lot of constrained discussion forums on the internet and none of them are as popular as Twitter, possibly because they lack the human factor. It's that very human factor that is keeping the less talented advertisers and marketers at arm's length, because they fear the openness, transparency and freedom of speech that are the common currency of the Twitter crowd.

Just like a clued-up live audience, Tweeters have the capacity to praise the skilful and heckle the inept into submission, getting right to the heart of the matter. If you silence the 'off topic' jibes or the seemingly irrelevant comments, you risk missing something that will take the discussion to a whole new level or alienating a would-be supporter.

Perhaps the answer lies not in focussing the discussion, but focussing the interactions. Giving people more ways to find and follow people and conversations that might interest them. Maybe providing more more ways to avoid those that won't. I wish Mrs. Mensch all the best, but unless she addresses the issues above, I can't really see her network being a rival to Twitter. If it does succeed of course, I'll be sure to Menshn it here ;)