6 June 2023

8 tips to get maximum value from your marketing suppliers

Julie Brook
Written by Julie Brook

Julie Brook is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre. She specialises in growth activation in small-to mid-size businesses. She has more than 30 years of strategic marketing and growth coaching experience in sectors from food and drink, retail and on-line gifting, to manufacturing, technology, business support, and growth funding. Her marketing expertise and innovative approach has driven growth initiatives with large corporates, mid-sized, early stage, turnaround businesses and brands, including Grand Met, Bass, RHM Foods, Bisto, Greenall’s, Scrumpy Jack, Yates Wine Lodges, Link-it, Kids Allowed, Snap-a-Jack, Envestors and The NorthWest Fund. She now leads a team of highly experienced Marketing Directors with the aim of impacting growth in small to midsized businesses in the North West of England.

One of the first things we do when we start working with a business is look at what they’re spending on suppliers and subscriptions. We often find there are areas where they’re overspending or could be getting more for their money. 

Our Marketing Directors have worked with countless suppliers on every shape and size of project you can think of. We recently caught up with a few of our Marketing Directors to discuss ways that business owners can sense check their marketing spend and maximise their return on investment.

Write a detailed brief that sets the right expectations

A proper brief is good for you and your supplier. The quality of your brief will absolutely define the quality of the work and whether you get what you pay for. Make sure you’re crystal clear in your brief about why you’re doing this and how you’ll evaluate success. This will help your suppliers stay focused on the metrics and outcomes that matter.

“If you don’t brief a supplier on exactly what you need, they’ll give you what they want to give you,” said Julie Brook, Regional Director for our North-West team. “A clear brief will outline what you need and why you need it, as well as how you plan to evaluate success.”

Remember: it’s never too late to write a brief, even if the project is already underway. A good brief is probably the number one success factor when it comes to working with external suppliers.

Not sure how to write your own agency brief? Grab our tried-and-tested agency briefing template

Always get quotes from multiple suppliers

Everyone knows they should do this. And yet, busy business owners often don’t. Either because they already have a supplier they like to use or because they’re in a rush.

“We’ve had examples where business owners have spent £50,000 for a website, or been quoted £30,000 for a set of brand guidelines,” said Julie. “Maybe if you’re a big corporate then that’s OK. But we wouldn’t recommend an SME paying those sorts of prices.”

Different suppliers charge wildly different prices. This isn’t always down to opportunism, sometimes it’s just how they’ve interpreted the brief. If you don’t get quotes from multiple suppliers, you’ll never know whether you’re overspending.

This is particularly important for retained work. Overspending on a one-off project is bad. Overspending every month on a retainer can cost a fortune. On that note…

Review retainers and subscriptions on a quarterly basis

Costs stack up over time. We often find that business owners are surprised by how many ongoing retainers and subscriptions they have in play. We always recommend reviewing regular costs on at least a quarterly basis, so you can sense check whether the spend is still needed.

“I started working with a company and they’d been working with a supplier for many years,” Jane Nugent told us. “They were on a big retainer every month. But there was no detailed breakdown of what the retainer covered, or what the day rates were. And the business was paying probably two to three times more than they needed to for the services they were getting.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that your criteria for this review should be genuine return on investment and alignment with the business strategy. If there isn’t clear line of sight between an ongoing cost and these criteria, it’s worth asking if you really need to do it.

Allocate work to freelancers

Over the last few years there has been an explosion of talented freelancers, especially for creative roles like design and copywriting. They often charge less than agencies and can be just as good. You also tend to get more of their time and they’re more likely to fully integrate into your team.

“One of my mantras is don’t be afraid of freelancers,” Damian Traynor said. “You don’t have to use agencies all the time. And often a blend of the two can be very effective.”

Marketing Manifesto: The Business Leaders’ Guide to Marketing That Really Works

Set clear goals and hold people to account

Every brief should come with clear goals. These will probably be a mix of qualitative (outcomes) and quantitative (metrics). You also need to make sure you have the reporting in place to monitor performance and make sure everything is on track. It’s no good setting goals if you don’t have any way of measuring your progress.

“Set targets and make people responsible for them,” recommends Julie. “If you don’t have targets, you have no way of holding people to account.”

Retain control of the deliverables

As the client, the work should be yours and you should retain control over it. The nature of this control will vary depending on the type of work you’re doing. 

Modern website CMS platforms make it easy for anyone to make small changes to copy and design. This means you get a website that’s flexible enough to be changed and adapted as you need, without the help of a third party. 

“If you build a website with somebody who charges you money for every change or limits your admin access, you have lost control effectively,” Julie told us. “You have to own the assets you’re creating.”

For design projects, control means transferring the design files over to you in their entirety. There’s no reason for them to hold onto the design files once the work has been completed. Even if you’re not planning on doing the design work yourself anytime soon, the work is yours and you should have a copy of it on your side.

Outsource the right work

Choosing what work to outsource is an important decision. If you outsource work that could easily be done in-house, you’ll end up spending unnecessarily. However, if you try to do specialist work in-house to save money, you’ll end up with a poor end result.

A common misconception among business owners is that marketing managers should be able to handle all of their marketing, from writing copy to doing graphic design to managing website builds. The reality is each of these jobs is a specialism in its own right. No one can do everything.

Be realistic about what your in-house team can do and what they can’t. One of the most common mistakes we see business owners make is piling unrealistic demands on junior or inexperienced staff and then wondering why they can’t do it all or the results aren’t as hoped. 

It’s also important to review this on an ongoing basis. Outsourcing can be a quick way to get a new initiative up and running before bringing it in-house. Or you can kick something off internally and then outsource it. 

Be wary of the cheap option

So far we’ve focused on how to spend less. But spending too little can also be a problem. Expertise costs money. The more experienced and skilled someone is, the more they’re likely to charge. 

Going for the cheap option can be a false economy. It doesn’t matter how cheap someone is if they don’t get the job done, or do it badly. Underspending can create just as many problems as overspending. 

When choosing suppliers, try to balance their quote against their track record. If the price is a bit higher but they have a great portfolio and track record, it might be worth spending a little more for a better end product. Remember: the end goal is return on investment, not cost-cutting.

Get more from your marketing investment

Are you looking for an outside perspective on your marketing spend? Our Marketing Directors have worked with hundreds of suppliers on projects of all stripes. We know what’s a fair price, what’s not and how to make the most of your investment. 


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