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Recruiting Intelligence

Selecting a Marketing Agency: What Makes an Effective Team?


You know your organization needs to do a better job of recruiting in key markets, but how do you find the "right" marketing team? This is a complex question, but from our experience, there is one clear answer. 

Exploring an array of works by strategic thought-leaders including Brene Brown, Jocko Willink, Reid Hoffman, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, comparing and contrasting a range of theories and approaches, strategic and tactical advice about creating effective teams – a pattern begins to emerge.

The answer: When you are evaluating vendors, consider team culture carefully. With global marketing, there’s a lot that can go sideways quickly, and you want the right group of people by your side to launch effectively and adjust when needed.

Will your agency adapt to change with grace and thoughtful expertise, and still deliver results given the new reality on the ground? Will they have the global network that identifies the need to change and share it with you on the spot? Or will it become apparent later, after the campaign funds are long gone?

The "right" team is hard to find. We know that truth from experience. Read on for a bit of wisdom from one of our clients about choosing the team that will move your institution forward. 

But before you click on: Last Chance for a free pass to today's Intead Plus webinar, "What's A Muslim Student to Think?" with my guest, Wajahat Ali, Journalist, CNN Talking Head, NYT Op Ed Contributor and all around thoughtful, analytical, humorous guy. Starts at 11AM DST. You won't be disappointed.

A Unique Evaluation Process

We have been supporting one particular client in the Midwest with market research, technology consulting and marketing execution for about five years now. In retrospect, the origins of this relationship were telling. 

The institution’s president knew she needed a few extra hands in her marketing department and that some changes needed to be made in how the marketing function ran. At that point, she had been leading the organization for nearly 20 years. She knew the industry and her team well. She had the support of her board of directors. And, most importantly, she was known for her integrity, which has always been key to the success of her operation.

She was, and continues to be, a strong and reliable leader. And she's very deliberate and thoughtful in her decision making.

That year, at AIEA, she asked me to sit down and chat. We had known each other for a year or so, mingling at conferences, but she had not hired Intead to do any work for her organization. She knew of our expertise, but she didn't know what kind of support team Intead might be to her.

She sat me down with a warm smile and started asking me about the origin of Intead. She wanted to know my background and a bit about my family. She wanted to understand what drove our team into the world of academic marketing. She did not ask about strategies or tactics. Without asking specifically, she was trying to assess our office culture and my leadership style. Her personal approach to building a positive company culture carried over into her vendor selection process. It was brilliant.

When marketing agencies, and vendors in general, offer up their promotional content, they often convey little about their true inner workings and team dynamics. They will give you lots of large photography and bright, sunny case studies – as they should. But that doesn’t tell you what it is like working with them when the chips are down, when the work uncovers something unexpected and the scope has to change but the budget is tight.

Are they creative and accommodating, focused on project goals? Do they adapt so that the outcome of the project still justifies the expense? And importantly, do you, the client, want to work with that agency again because of how the team faced down challenges and still delivered?

What Makes an Effective Team? 

A few years back, Google’s “Project Aristotle” set out to understand the composition of highly effective teams. They found a set of 5 intangible group norms that were the underpinning of successful collaboration. They found their most effective teams exhibited these qualities:

  • Dependability – meet expectations on time
  • Structure and clarity – for goals and roles
  • Meaning – the work has personal significance
  • Impact – the work has larger significance for the greater good
  • Psychological Safety – ideas and questions emerge with confidence that they won’t be ridiculed (this one is huge)

This comment stood out: among groups that performed well, “As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well. But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”

Sensitivity to others is a key element of successful teams (and highly relevant to cross-cultural marketing). These teams create “a climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves,” writes Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson in a 1999 study.

Many vendors never address these factors. The truth is that many marketing agencies are rife with internal conflict. A WSJ article from earlier this year lays bare some of the culture wars that flare in marketing shops big and small. The story offers examples from some Madison Avenue level shops of how the digital marketing revolution has driven wedges between creative teams as marketing agencies have tried to blend talents from different areas of the industry together. Leaders, departments and staff are at odds. It is not a flattering light.

From experience, when you hire a marketing agency with this type of internal dynamic, you are not getting the quality of work you want.

Company Culture Drives Results

Our Midwestern client was assessing us. What kind of team thrives at Intead? Why are we the "right" marketing team to fit with her growing organization? 

Now, five plus years later, she continues to rely on us.

There is a key, validating question we marketers ask when considering how to promote a company. We ask current customers: would you recommend this product or service to your friends?Yesterday, I received an email from our Midwestern client. She referred us to one of her close colleagues in the industry who is facing some marketing challenges in her operation. 

To us, company culture is everything. It drives success. We hope you feel the same. 

We'd love to talk more about this with you in Florida next month. Join us at the AIRC conference or the ICEF Workshop. We'll be delivering new research and best practices at both.

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