Blog Post

What Should You Look For
In The Best Performance Marketing Agencies?

What are the characteristics the brands should look for to make sure they work with the best performance marketing agencies?

Rob Simpkins

Rob Simpkins

Head of Service, Founder



The digital marketing industry has never shown itself to be particularly stable in its evolutions, but recent times have been particularly combustible. 

Sweeping macro changes such as GDPR, the cookie-pocalypse and iOS4 have been blended with micro changes to specific platforms such as the muddying of match types in search and the removal of large swathes of targeting from Meta to trigger rapid re-thinks as to how we deliver effective digital marketing.

But whilst we’ve invested brain power into evolving marketing strategy and activation in-line with these changes, has the same effort gone into remoulding the agency service model?

To effectively meet the needs of clients today, we at Propel Digital have built our agency model using the following principles and traits that we believe form the core of delivering good service.

Business First Mentality


One of the behaviours we preach to our team is to “think like an owner”. To truly put yourself into the shoes of the client stakeholder that you work with to understand if your actions will really create value for them. 

To really be able to do this, you must have a detailed understanding of the vertical the business operates in, the revenue generation model the business is applying and the challenges that the business faces at a macro level, not just those that particularly affect the digital channels.

For us this all starts with effective discovery. When we onboard a client, we spend the first 30 days of the engagement clocking up hours of discovery with all elements of the business, from technology, IT, trading and merchandising, through to accounting, operations and our more typical friends in the marketing department. All of these touchpoints will have a unique viewpoint on the context of the business that can provide invaluable insight.

I used to be enough to impress a client with your knowledge of the digital channels, but with the explosion of the digital services industry this service is now highly commoditized. The real value is in applying relevant knowledge of the digital channels to the context of the business.

Deep Platform Understanding


This seems obvious, and of course it is, but to deliver effective agency service today you have to be able to offer your clients a deep understanding of the platforms that they will be investing their media budget into.

The difference in what makes a good service has to go deeper than this, and key is recognising the difference between “knowing” and “understanding” when it comes to the media channels an agency will run. Knowing is static, referring to discrete facts, while understanding is active, describing the ability to analyse and place those facts in context to form a big picture. 

Our understanding of the digital platforms we regularly manage comes from decades of active management of digital media for a diverse mix of brands. We recognise that there are differences between “best practices” as defined by the platforms versus what works in actuality when it is applied in practice. This depth of experience means that we really understand what it is that makes the algorithms tick and focus on helping our client to take advantage of these algorithmic behaviours to drive a positive impact on their bottom line.

Flexible Specialist Access


Media buying across virtually all of the digital platforms has generally migrated towards mass automation, resulting in a shrinking pool of manual interventions that channel specialists can make when it comes to optimisation and tactical proactivity.

This has placed the onus on complementary skill sets to raise the proverbial ceiling on performance levels for digital media channels and to help brands take advantage of the constantly evolving levels of automation available to them in the platform.

For example, to truly succeed in the paid social space, agencies can no longer profess to being able to deliver a real impact in the channel if they don’t enhance a client’s digital creative capability.The majority of Meta’s best practise is orientated around aggregating audience pools and letting the Meta bidding algorithms find the right audience on your behalf. This effectively gets you in front of the right users, but then if those users don’t notice you within the brand saturated social environment, then it’s all for nought. You need access to designers proficient in crafting engaging assets that are built specifically for the channel and the objective you have in mind.

Likewise from a paid search perspective, even with the mature and increasingly sophisticated bidding strategies available, if you aren’t informing those machine-learning models with the right data signals that steer towards the greatest impact to your bottom line. To achieve this you need access to data engineers who understand firstly how to capture, clean and structure the data; and secondly how to feed this into the relevant platform APIs to make it accessible to your campaigns.

Adaptable Resourcing


The volatility of the digital landscape means that brands now place a premium on being able to tap into specialist skill sets to deal with previously unforeseen issues that they may not have been prepared for. 

The significant growth in a preference for in-housing amongst brands has only increased the need to offer an adaptive approach to resourcing.  Less and less client engagements are becoming full service and instead agency partners are being used to gap fill on skill sets that the client partner doesn’t have access to. Being able to offer the flexibility to gap fill across a variety of capabilities at speed is crucial to delivering an effective service to these clients.

Agencies have often alluded to fully flexible teams that allow you to rotate in different types of talent where needed, but the reality is that the larger agency model is often hindered by departmental or capability P&L statements. This typically hinders the speed to swap in and out different specialists and the desire for client teams to actively shift or rotate resources across different capabilities as effectively they are losing revenue to their business unit.

Our approach to address this challenge has been to structure the operating model around the business as a macrocosm of the teams we build for our clients, building around multi-specialist client pods as opposed to specialism led departments.

Accessible Technology


The ad tech space has exploded over the last decade and is now one of the most highly commoditized spaces in the ad industry. At the same time this has coincided with increasing levels of black box automation within the platforms themselves, which has presented challenges for brands who need more flexibility for manual intervention due to the characteristics of the business.

To truly deliver the best service possible to clients across paid media, the onus is now on agencies to have either proprietary or licensed toolkits that are suited towards unlocking this flexibility in media activation for clients. Where agencies are failing their clients however, is in the additional cost burden that is passed onto clients based on use of the tools.

In instances such as the GMP suite where there are licence costs for the agencies to pay then this is completely understandable, but there is an argument that access to either proprietary technology or to specialists that can build bespoke solutions for clients should now be a baseline expectation for clients.

Service-based Incentivisation


Performance incentives for agencies are nothing new, but it is not particularly common that they are built into agency contracts as standard. A lot of this has to do with the inherent risk to revenue and that, especially when incentivised against quantitative numbers, you don’t have total control over what you will and won’t be able to achieve. After all, all performance marketers know that results are at the mercy of the many different external stressors that we cannot directly impact.

However, commercials can still be used to drive excellent service for clients if they are orientated around a qualitative view on the service that the agency partner has delivered. This can be used to assess the agency’s quality of strategic thinking, proactivity around changes to the market, creative thinking, speed of response, and even just down to the general demeanour of the agency team when they are engaging with client stakeholders.

This approach to incentivisation focused the reward on making sure the working relationship in practice is healthy without focusing on a subjective forecast or results subject to external influence. Fundamentally as well, if the incentivisation is on getting the day to day and the process right, then in theory the results should certainly follow.



At Propel Digital, these are the key pillars that we believe allow us to deliver a level of service that meets the needs of brands in today’s digital media landscape. But the important message to end this post with is that no model for delivering excellent service can remain static. We operate within a space that is fundamentally dynamic and will be in a constant state of evolution. What agencies need to strive for is to build strong principles that are designed to be re-evaluated, remodelled and relaunched to make sure that they maintain their position at the cutting edge of client service.

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