Leadership Perspectives

The Value of an Agency Partnership, in Three Acts

Becky Doles

Image of a theater stage and seats
Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

This article was originally published on PerformanceIn.com.

Advertisers generally hire agencies to provide expertise and services in the three crucial phases of a partner or affiliate marketing program: developing program strategy, operationalizing the program, and optimizing the program. In this post, I’ll walk you through the script for how an agency partnership could benefit your business.

Setting the Stage

My favorite type of partnership is one that lightens the load. As Steven Spielberg once said:

“I love creating partnerships; I love not having to bear the entire burden of the creative storytelling, and when I have unions like with George Lucas and Peter Jackson, it’s really great; not only do I benefit, but the project is better for it.”

— Steven Spielberg

So even if you’re the Steven Spielberg of marketing, you’ll probably benefit from finding a George Lucas to partner with. Lucky for you, this type of collaborative partner can be found in the form of an agency.

To state the obvious, the world of partnership marketing relies entirely on an ecosystem of trusted partners. If you’re in charge of a company’s partner marketing program, the term “partner” usually makes you think of all your publishers, affiliates, and networks. But another key strategic partner that needs to be recognized is your agency partnership.

Agencies play a significant role in an advertiser program. Following our model of program success outlined in The Ultimate Guide to Partner Marketing, an agency’s role is to elevate your ability to execute three key phases of a program: developing program strategy, operationalizing the program, and optimizing the program. The best agencies drive incremental value through tailored support in these phases. Just like a movie or a play, this can be broken down into three acts.

Graphic of a dial with the three phases of a successful agency partnership plan
The three acts of a successful partner program. Source: The Ultimate Guide to Partner Marketing

Act 1: Strategize

A great way to lighten your load is by leaning on the expertise of your agency partnership. Through extensive experience and an intimate understanding of the industry, agencies know how to set a program up for success.

This is the time for establishing the setting, outlining the key characters, and introducing the hook. Without this, your program will be hobbled from the start with a rudderless plotline. That’s why it’s important the agency works with you to establish a strategy that addresses:

  • Program Goals. Ensure you are completely clear on your budget, profitability, and performance targets.
  • Partner Portfolio. Collaborate on partner strategy, so that your partner portfolio connects with your brand and goals. Aim for quality and diversity.
  • Payout Structures. Decide on appropriate partner commissions to achieve your budgetary and profitability goals, and to set the foundation for healthy partner relationships.
  • Marketing Policies. Shape the rules that define how your affiliates will interact with your offers, and align these policies with your brand.

Act 2: Operationalize

Once the strategy is in place, it’s time for action. The best agencies are proficient in the operations of a program. They know how to deploy a program and artfully manage it.

The quality of service you receive in this area will be tied to the bandwidth of your agency’s affiliate management team. It’s prudent to ask how many affiliate managers are on staff and how many accounts are allocated per manager. This will give you an idea of the amount of TLC you can expect your program to receive in these areas:

  • Partner Recruitment. An agency’s distinctive skill set is most pronounced during partner development. In this area, agencies should be evaluated based on the level of personalization they offer, the sophistication of their tools and analysis, and their network of partners.
  • Partner Onboarding. Once a partner is recruited, an agency can streamline their onboarding. This includes activating affiliates and making them aware of the applicable rules and policies.
  • Compliance. Speaking of rules and policies, an agency also oversees partner compliance enforcement. This helps mitigate program risk and prevent headaches.
  • Communication. Your program is an ongoing collaboration with your partners, which requires timely communication. An agency partnership can disseminate the necessary information regarding promotions and updates.
  • Offer Management. Whether you want to create a new campaign or tweak an existing offer, your agency can help you set it up, promote it, and measure it.
  • Payment. Although sometimes an afterthought, partner payments are a vital part of the partner marketing lifecycle. And before executing payments, someone needs to manage the invoice reconciliation process. Make sure to discuss how these responsibilities are divvied up between you and the agency.

Act 3: Optimize

After the action has occurred, questions should now be addressed. During the execution of your program, subplots and tensions should have been forming, such as new opportunities, partner coverage gaps, and red flags. Resolving these questions is how an agency partnership can continue to provide incremental value.

A partner marketing program is most successful when it’s been fine-tuned over time, as opposed to being treated as passive income. You want an agency that is active in optimizing your campaigns in response to ongoing analysis. To do that effectively, an agency needs to have access to the right tools and data, be well-versed in the platform that your program is running on, and have the personnel that can turn data into actionable insights.

  • Analysis. A partner marketing program can be brimming with data if you know what you’re looking for. This data should be readily available in your network or platform. Some agencies may also take this data and pass it through their own analysis tools to provide custom reporting. And don’t forget to check whether your agency is monitoring your program for fraud and has a plan to act when troubling trends appear.
  • Improvement. If the agency is using these tools and data correctly, it should be fine-tuning your campaigns and capturing additional return. Your offers can have extensive reach across unique partners with varying incentives. This means your program requires ongoing calibration. You can “set it and forget it,” but your program could be missing out on untapped potential.

Dénouement: A Plot Summary

Helping you to realize your partner program’s untapped potential is an agency’s reason-to-be. Whether this is your first time as an affiliate manager or you’re the Steven Spielberg of partner marketing, you can likely benefit from having a trusted agency partner to lean on. In the end, your brand’s story will benefit.

Have you used an agency before? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

If you’re part of an agency that wants to work with TUNE, or is interested in connecting with TUNE customers, feel free to drop us a line at [email protected].

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.