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Does Agile Marketing Require More Client Involvement?

\"AgileThe Twitter conversation pictured at the left brings up an interesting question: does Agile Marketing require more client involvement?

I think it can require less client involvement, but it takes the right kind of client, in particular one who is willing to give the marketing agency freedom to do what they do best.

I should preface my explanation by saying that I’ve never worked in a marketing agency.  I’ve hired many over the years, and I’ve done a fair amount of consulting over the years, but I’ve never walked in their shoes.  I’d love to hear feedback from those who work in a marketing agency, including how it works in relationship to clients.

Waterfall Methodology in the Marketing Agency

Although it’s not often referred to as waterfall methodology, the traditional relationship between a client and a marketing agency bears many similarities to the relationship between the client and a software development team practicing waterfall methodology. In both cases, the client signs off at certain key milestones in a production process, whether it is the development of software or the development of a marketing campaign. The client signs off on the campaign brief. The client signs off on creative and/or content.  At the end of the project or campaign, the client is briefed (and in some ways signs off) on the “success” of the campaign.

In both cases, it can be very difficult for the software development team or the marketing agency to say “What we’re doing isn’t working; we need to try something else”.  It happens, but not very often.

It can be very difficult to change a campaign mid-stream, and revisit decisions made early on or that have already been signed off on.

The flow of decisions is linear, as in a waterfall, rather than iterative, as Agile would encourage.

The traditional client-agency relationship requires heavy client involvement up front: writing the campaign brief, meeting with the agency to clarify anything that isn’t clear in the brief, approving creative and/or content.  You could argue that it requires less client involvement while the campaign is running, and that’s probably right, but as I’ll argue below, that’s precisely the time when the client should be involved, holding the agency accountable.

Agile Methodology in the Marketing Agency

The Agile approach to marketing requires the client and the agency to be partners in learning.  The client provides some initial ideas about what may or may not work, sets the priorities, may provide some subject matter expertise, and holds the agency accountable.  The agency provides expertise on the “how”, whether it be SEO or Content Marketing or Brand development or Messaging, and executes on the learning. The agency also reviews the learning on a regular basis during the campaign with the client, providing data about what’s working and what’s not working, and if necessary, resetting the direction of the campaign (also known as a “pivot”).

The flow of decisions is iterative, and in most cases, those decisions are based on data, rather than asking a HiPPO.

When to Involve the Client in Agile

In most cases, Agile requires less involvement from the client up front. Early on, the client should be able to explain what they’re trying to accomplish and what success looks like.  The client should specify how to measure success, and get agreement with the agency up front of a reasonable definition of success, and in what timeframe. If there is a creative brief at all, it should be short, one or two pages.

After that up front work, the client needs to be involved in one, possibly two meetings during each Sprint. The client should definitely attend the Sprint Review meeting, where the marketing agency reviews the work that has been completed, and the results of any tests or promotions. The client may, at their option, also attend the backlog grooming meeting, to help set the priorities.

I feel strongly that clients should not attend the Sprint Planning session, the Sprint Retrospective, or the Daily Scrums.  The client has hired the agency to do this work, which is related to the how.  Once the client sets the priorities and achieved agreement with the agency on what success looks like, the marketing agency can and should handle the execution of the Sprint process.

Some clients may still want to be involved to the extent of reviewing creative and content, but this should be more for adherence to brand guidelines than for deciding whether the creative or content will be effective.  Effectiveness is to be measured, not pre-judged.