The Crowded Higher Ed Marketplace

Zero to bachelor’s in 2.5. Bring a spark, light a fire. From here, go anywhere.Higher Education Marketing, Higher Education, Marketing, Hampton Roads

Those college taglines are comfortingly familiar to Hampton Roads residents. On any given day you’ll hear a radio ad with one, whiz by a billboard with another.

Which one are you most familiar with? If you answered #1, stay tuned.

With 5 traditional universities (including 2 historically black schools, Norfolk State and Hampton University), 2 colleges (including the second-oldest in the nation, William & Mary), the world-renowned Eastern Virginia Medical School, and a robust community college system, Hampton Roads is spoiled for choice when it comes to higher education.

But the competitive pressure continues to escalate from for-profit schools, most of which are based outside the region altogether. Perhaps the best-known locally is ECPI, which is HQ’d here in Virginia Beach—and who belongs to that ubiquitous tagline #1. (Recently replaced with “The best decision you ever made.”)

And that’s pretty telling. You know ECPI’s hook—but do you know ODU’s? Virginia Wesleyan’s? (It’s #2 above) NSU’s?

If you’re struggling, it’s not your fault. Chalk it up to market saturation.

When you add up ALL higher ed advertisers, including those outside the region, a staggering $25.4 million is spent on higher education advertising in Hampton Roads each year, with an additional $80.6 million spent on marketing and promotion. That’s to reach an audience of 718,820 TV households and 1.5 million adults in Hampton Roads. (Nielsen)

In 2014, regional schools spent close to $3 million on higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads (Kantar). More than half of that $3 million was ECPI. In other words, excluding ECPI, local schools purchased less than 15% of all higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads last year.

You see, it’s not just about competing for enrollment anymore. It’s competition for airtime, for screen time, for ears and eyeballs.

And in Hampton Roads, that’s some pretty fierce competition. In fact, if you add up the total number of colleges, universities, trade school and tech school locations within Hampton Roads the options total over 250!

So, higher ed marketers in Hampton Roads face big hurdles to break through the noise and capture the attention of prospective students.

Aside from having the deepest advertising pockets—how do you stand out in Hampton Roads’ crowded higher ed marketplace?

Higher education is a service-driven industry—just like health care, real estate or banking. Any lofty ideas about the Ivory Tower or historic campuses need to take a backseat to deciding what your school excels at, and how to sell it.

Maybe start with recognizing that the average local student looks very different from even 15 years ago.

Hampton Roads is home to one of the world’s largest populations of military personnel, many of whom earn GI Bill benefits. Those are adult students whose needs are very different from those of 18-22 year olds. Students, Hampton Roads, Higher Education, Marketing

Many of them are pursuing education while serving full-time, or they are retraining for a new career and want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible. They’re looking for shorter semesters. (Hence the appeal of “2.5,” brought to you by ECPI’s 6-week sessions).

Incentivize military and adult students. Spotlight any benefits unique to military. Explain how your school can help with any red tape. Bear redeployment in mind: is the coursework portable? What are you willing to do to retain students or help them transfer? And what about those shorter sessions—can your school compete?

Student veterans seek out degrees in business, criminal justice and intelligence studies. Promote these programs if your school offers them. If they don’t, start a conversation.

Norfolk State is leading a $25 million effort to educate a new cybersecurity workforce. That’s a massive opportunity to connect with military and veteran students and help them on the path to a future career with local defense contractors.

Beyond the military community, consider the growing adult student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2011, enrollment of students aged 25+ rose 41%. From 2011 to 2021, NCES projects a further 14% increase.

Hampton Roads has over a half-million adults with “some college” education, and over 194,000 say they plan on going back to school in the next 12 months.

These students enroll for a variety of reasons—to join growing industries such as health care and technology, retrain for a new career after job loss or retirement, or to enhance their current career. Those goals don’t typically translate to a 4-year undergraduate degree. More students are seeking 2-year degrees and certifications, while many professional students want graduate certificates or master’s programs.

Find out what adult students want—and let them know you’ve got it. Don’t forget most of these students are working while in school, too. Regent University’s grad program just switched to two 8-week terms for spring 2015. That’s a good sign it’s listening to the needs of its MBA-seeking students, many of whom likely work full-time.

The smart higher ed marketer is also engaged with Hampton Roads’ top employers and tying those opportunities into their messaging.

Help prospective students envision themselves in a future career. Share real-life success stories (Regent University and ECPI have done this for years), or show that your school positions graduates to land the “hottest jobs” in “growing industries.”

According to Sonya Schweitzer, University Director of Marketing at ECPI University, “We’ve been using real graduates or students for our TV ads for quite a long time—testimonials.” She added, “Every effort is made to show graduates who represent different demographics, as well as making sure their stories are believable and represent the average student.”

Make the most of integrated multimedia marketing. Seventy percent of prospective students go to the college website first. But remember, the path to enrollment is long and winding and needs to include traditional media as well as integrated digital methods (online and social media marketing).

Schweitzer explained ECPI’s perspective: “Even though most people will have seen an ad or a billboard in this market, they will convert through our website, or search [marketing], at a much higher rate. We use social media to have a conversation with our prospects, as well as our current students and grads. It is a very strong selling tool for prospects who are researching who we are. They can hear it from people other than ourselves—unfiltered. That is powerful.”

Meet these prospects where they are, through targeted marketing such as programmatic buying, and through artful social media marketing. Aim for a conversation, a relationship—not just a one-size-fits-some banner ad campaign.


So, ready to graduate with honors from the Hampton Roads school of higher ed marketing? Look over your campaigns and make sure you’re not overlooking any of these opportunities. If you are, take some time to regroup, reimagine and revitalize. With any luck you can still enhance your efforts for fall 2015 recruitment.

And bear in mind that statewide, Virginia public college enrollment declined in 2014—for the first time in 20 years. Things just got a little more competitive.

If you have questions about anything in this article, feel free to post or contact me at

You’re gonna see an ad anyway,

 it might as well be something you like…Marketing Hampton Roads

One big debate these days in advertising circles (of course there are many) revolves around privacy, and just how much we as advertisers know about our prospective targets.’s recent wishy-washiness about sharing consumer privacy information helped fuel the conversation. While I’m not a fan of privacy invasion or over-the-top hacking and snooping, I do fall firmly on the side of the statement above. I know I’m going to see ads on websites, in apps, in TV programs and ahead of that tile-grouting video I just searched for. My sense is, it might as well be an ad for something I give a hoot about as opposed to something totally unrelated to my world. In fact, for me, the more relevant the better. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.

 Three ways to see who’s watching you online.

If you’ve ever wondered who’s watching you, or who knows what about you, it’s not hard to get a good view. Just about everywhere you go online…no matter what platform…you’re picking up cookies or in some way leaving a trail of data. Here are three ways to get a glimpse of when someone’s watching and who knows what:

1.)      Website trackers

Ever wonder who’s lurking behind the browser? Who’s warehousing data every time you mouse over a picture or click a link? Fly over to Ghostery and click on the button that says “Add to (whichever browser you’re using).” After you do you’ll be treated to a magical looking-glass on each page that looks something like this:Ghostery

The list will change from page to page and site to site, but it shows you who the data aggregators are that have placed pixels and are collecting data on that page, as well as the ad exchanges and traders that are serving ads on that site. Clear your cookies if you want, but every time you come back they will still be there. Your only choice in thwarting them is to block cookies…but remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…

2.) What Facebook thinks of you

Those guys at Facebook are so smart, and transparent, that if you want to know why you’re seeing a certain ad, all you have to do is ask. Not only that, if you’re not seeing what you want, you can actually add to your preference list. Here’s how:

a.     When you see an ad on Facebook, hold your mouse over the upper right hand corner until an X appears. Click on it, then click on “Why am I seeing this?” Another box will pop up with the answer. Could be you’re the right demo. Could be you like to do certain things or go certain places. Or it could be a lot vaguer, like “this company wants to reach people like you.”

b.     Within the second box, click on “Manage my preferences.” Within the box that opens you can see everything Facebook thinks it knows about you relative to the ads you see. Click on each content area to see individual data tags relative to your content, profile or activities within the site. Some of it will be dead wrong, some right on the money.

c.      If you think Facebook has it wrong, or is missing some things, you can actually customize this profile. You can delete individual preferences, or, at the top of the page is a box that allows you to add preferences. In fact, you can do this whole exercise on practically any ad on any website. Click on the arrow or box in the upper right corner of an ad, then look for the link to manage your preferences. Rather see ads about Disneyworld? The NFL? Here’s your chance. Because remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…

3.)   What the Shadow knows

On the creepier side, try out the Digital Shadow and let it build your virtual profile. The site, which is really a clever app built by Ubisoft to market the game Watchdogs, lets you log in using Facebook and then builds a rather eerie, contrived picture of you and your life using your profile data. With claims like, “We know who you are,” “We know who you care about,” “We know how to find you” or “We know what you’re worth,” you can’t help but feel paranoid. If you’re like me, you’ll find quite a bit of it laughable (yeah, try looking for me in the Bahamas). But the idea of getting a glimpse at how data trackers may see you is interesting.

Bottom line is that advertising will continue to become, more and more, a technical business. As an advertiser, you want to know as much about your potential customer as possible. Data trackers and online profiles help you do that, help make the online user experience more relevant, and I believe make it more efficient for all of us. So go ahead, serve me ads for SCUBA diving and sport fishing off of Freeport. Because, hey, I’m gonna see an ad anyway…

Let’s Make Good Things Happen

Helping United Way connect with young, impassioned and socially savvy citizens.

United Way South Hampton Roads

I’m beginning to despise the term “Millennial.” Members of this generation have been cast as spoiled and self-centered.

In truth, the Millennial generation is a hardworking and passionate group, very committed to their personal causes and more than willing to participate and belong, if you communicate and engage in ways that are relevant to them. At the same time, this group is living with high student debt in a world of salary caps and escalating costs of things like health insurance. They want and need control over their time and treasure when it comes to charitable giving.

With roots dating back to 1923, the United Way of South Hampton Roads (UWSHR) has staying power. Its army of staff members, donors, and volunteers works with companies and agencies to “help solve problems too big for any of us to solve alone.” But, as with most non-profits, connecting with and engaging the younger (call it the future) generation of donors is a challenge.

For the past four months, my colleagues and I have been working with UWSHR to tackle the challenge of building a communication strategy that reaches this group and tells the United Way story through channels and in ways that connect.

A study conducted by Achieve and the Case Foundation and published by Stanford found four key insights about how this generation of Americans connects, gets involved, and gives.

  1. Millennial preferences are becoming more than just preferences; they’re becoming the norm for all donors. The Millennial style of communication involves authentic stories and visual presentations that are concise, mobile-friendly, and delivered online via social media and video platforms.
  2. Organizations must invest time and resources into helping Millennials feel and experience the cause. Millennials are consistent in their desire to see exactly how time, talent, and dollars translate into people helped. They want their contributions—no matter what type or amount—to achieve actual results for a cause.
  3. Organizations must inspire Millennials to work through and with their cause, rather than for their organization. Ultimately, they want to lend their knowledge, expertise, and time to help the people or issues the organization touches—not necessarily the organization itself.
  4. Millennials can be an organization’s secret weapon when it comes to spreading the word about a cause or issue. Tools such as social media and peer fundraising put cause-marketing departments in the hands of this group. Because they’re aggressively taking on this unofficial marketing role, they are contributing to grassroots-oriented movements.

Working through this initiative meant taking stock of current usage of social platforms. Three critical planning elements emerged here:

1) Be sure to utilize the platform or outlet to deliver the type of content (visual, connective, responsive) that is most relevant to that audience.

2) Deliberately plan outbound messaging to communicate events and successes, stay engaged, and encourage volunteers to engage during live events.

3) Monitor messaging to engage and reward those who spread the word of the organization’s initiatives.

To help all of this happen, UWSHR now has a social media strategy map and plan, an event plan to give its annual Day of Caring (#dayofcaring)

United Way Viral Video

Take look at the humorous side of giving.

a large social footprint, and, from the fun side, a series of tongue-in-check online-only (read “viral” here) videos that take its “Good Things Happen When You Give” campaign way over the top. All of this content gets shared and circulated via social channels to help connect and inform younger, more digitally savvy donors and volunteers, and you can find some of it on the UWSHR Facebook page, their YouTube Channel, or on their website at

The role of UWSHR is to “bring people and organizations together to solve problems too big for us to solve as individuals.” The challenge of connecting Hampton Roads’ passionate Millennial givers and volunteers with a mission as critical and impactful as that of United Way is a cause we can all engage in. Forward this note and like United Way wherever you are!

Read more about the United Way/Seventh Point partnership here.


Creating Demand

 How to gross people out and keep mattresses moving in Hampton Roads

I’ve often wondered just how many mattress stores a town needs. Seems more and more like mattress stores in Hampton Roads are competing with Starbucks and 7-Eleven for the title of “most stores per capita.”

Mattress Firm, which bought the locally owned Mattress Discounters stores in 2010, now lists 28 stores across the metro area and nearly 1,500 across the US. Sleepy’s took the market by storm starting in 2011 and now lists 21 stores across the DMA. The firm, which has over 900 stores, mostly in the northeast, purchased the Mattress Discounters chain (separate from the locally owned company) from RoomStore in 2012.Advertising with fear

Add to that a half-dozen Original Mattress Factory stores and large and small furniture retailers along with several other outlets and you’ve got a mattress dealer on every corner. So what drives all of this demand?

If you’re Mattress Firm, you don’t wait around until people are ready to buy. You create the demand. You tell them when and why they should buy their next mattress, even if the message gets a little scary, creepy or gross.

The execution of “Replace Every Eight” is the Mattress Firmperfect example of creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the marketplace and stimulating sales. People who buy a mattress with a 10- or 15-year guarantee expect the mattress to last that long, but hit them with a message that says your mattress is soaked in “gallons of sweat, pounds of dead skin and millions of dust mites” and they might just replace their mattress sooner. Eeeww.

Most mattress advertising centers around getting a better night’s sleep, which is the top reason people replace their mattress, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Consumer Reports recommends changing every five to 10 years, and The Better Sleep Council (BSC) says every five to seven years. So replacing a mattress every eight years, as a benchmark, probably isn’t so far-fetched. But now I’m only worried about sleeping better (the number one reason the BSC says five to seven years). Mattress Firm’s creative team found the happy middle ground to capitalize on a great (no pun intended) alliteration opportunity. All that gross stuff will accumulate(8), so don’t procrastinate(8). Cute and clever.

But scary. Scary is motivation. It carries across media channels, it sticks in your brain: eight years’ worth of dust mites crawling around chewing on pounds of … well, you get the picture. FUD is a powerful, effective advertising tool (no product does this better than mouthwash). In many cases it’s based on fiction, not science or reality. So good for Mattress Firm in this case to at least have some real advocates to lean on.

How Are Your Customers Shopping For You?

I touched on something recently during a Hampton Roads AMA panel that really bears repeating, clarifying and driving home for anyone responsible for running a business.

The concept of a purchase funnel is obsolete. Consumers search for information and make decisions based on what they find. Managing what they find, how they perceive your product and how they engage with you is what content marketing is all about.

The goal of content marketing is to facilitate the purchase decision. Over and over again. Your content must be aligned and keep your customer constantly  engaged or your customer will disconnect.

Search for “Purchase Funnel” and you’ll find millions of images and explanations dating back to the dawn of time showing how people move from awareness of a product to purchase. Almost all of them bear a strong resembMarketing Funnellance to the one at right. The consumer or target enters at the top and moves vertically–and in one direction—through the funnel to purchase. Greatly oversimplified of course, but still representative of how marketers viewed the marketing and sales process. In a world where a brand has strong control over the words and the impressions delivered to an audience, the funnel is fairly accurate. Keep delivering messages that build on each other and move the consumer through the funnel. But technology, the availability of big, real-time data and the consumer’s ever-increasing thirst for on-demand product information has made this thinking completely obsolete.

The Audience Has Shifted

No longer can we consider an audience to be a static force that we can “impress.” Even though we still count exposures to a brand or message in terms of “impressions,” the content of that message, the perspective from which it is delivered and the consumer’s ever-increasing lack of desire to “be sold to” have greatly shifted where and how we reach the audience.

Technology is the great enabler here, providing on-demand access through hand-held devices faster and more powerful than the computer systems in spaceships that went to the moon. Social media platforms, blogs, and comparative shopping platforms bombard the consumer with information and opinion (valid or not), that consumers find ten times more believable than “advertising.” The structure and strategy of how well a site is optimized to be found by search engines, or links to the information sources mentioned earlier, now are important to a marketing strategy as the overall brand position. All of these areas of influence affect the consumer in various ways, at various times. None of it happens in a single direction, and none of it happens vertically.

What once was a funnel is now a convoluted path through an almost endless list of information sources.

Information about…

  • You
  • Your product
  • Your competition
  • What your customers think about your product
  • Even what people who’ve never TRIED your product think about it

I describe this experience, rather than a funnel, as a sphere. Consumers enter the sphere through any kind of external influence, advertising exposure, need, life event; anything that could first cause interest in a product or service. But here’s where the behavior shifts. Once inside the sphere, the consumer embarks on a totally unpredictable path of information absorption. Consumers continue to experience the brand, gather information and form opinions based on information they either seek or are exposed to.

Once inside the sphere, the job of content marketing is to keep them inside the sphere and facilitate purchase. The content marketing platforms you manage to keep them inside your sphere, before during and after the purchase, include:

  • BlogsMarketing Sphere
  • Social Media Posts
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Product Ratings
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • SEO
  • Paid Advertising
  • Website Engagement
  • SMS Texting
  • Word of Mouth
  • Earned Media
  • Customer Experience

All of these are touch points, and the consumer can experience any of them at any time within the sphere. It’s a three-dimensional journey that requires a consistent, rewarding and aligned experience in order to stay engaged.

If you don’t already do it, you should audit the content you manage as well as the content your current and prospective customers are exposed to. Do you provide information about your product and your product experience? Is the information comparative? Fresh? Relevant? Do you engage your customers, provide insight and seek feedback? Most importantly, do you have multiple paths to capture contact information, and even more paths to use that information to keep them moving within your sphere? Look for all of these principle action points and you will be well on your way to a sound content marketing strategy.

What’s a Sponsorship Worth in Hampton Roads?

Five Key Elements to Valuing a Sponsorship.ODU

Of course the big question here is, “What’s a sponsorship worth ANYWHERE?” One of the hardest things to do in marketing is place a tangible, measurable value on a high-profile sponsorship opportunity. Whether you’re talking a single event, seasonal series, fixed venue, even spokesperson or celebrity visit, the variables and intangibles make pricing and measuring return on sponsorship extremely squishy.

“The fact that there is not one standard measuring stick across our industry nationally is very frustrating,” says Chuck Gray, general manager of ODU Sports Properties. Gray works with sponsors at every level for ODU Athletics opportunities. “You can find three or four models” used in various places he added. “We look for ways to create value multiples, as much as 2-1, for the dollars invested in a sponsorship.”

Velvet Marshall is sales director for IMG in Hampton Roads, handling sponsorships for the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth and Beachevents at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. “Every package we Virginia Beach Ball 2put together is customized based on the sponsor’s budget and needs,” she says. According to Marshall, ”We always meet and exceed what is required by the city of Va. Beach for the Beachevents program. And while a good portion of revenue generated does go back into the program, we always maintain the quality of the acts we have regardless of sponsorship revenue.”

Fine. But when you’re faced with the decision of committing six-or maybe even seven-figure line items in your marketing budget to a major sponsorship as opposed to increasing your online or offline media weight, how do you decide? Sarah Marshall Elliott, director of marketing and brand strategy for Virginia Farm Bureau, says the company looks for several kAmphitheaterey elements, including audience compatibility and fit, statewide reach, strong digital/social media aspects, and category exclusivity.

“When the Farm Bureau Live sponsorship was created four years ago”, Elliott says, “the company’s marketing strategy was largely built around raising general awareness for the bran  d.” It was important to capture the loud promotional voice and leverage digital as well as traditional reach and frequency to bolster Farm Bureau name recognition. “Today,” she says, “we develop consumer-facing promotions which drive prospects into our local county offices for an insurance quote. We have also ramped up our digital marketing efforts via our sponsorships which provide real-time data.”

A Little Structure, Please.

As a corporate marketer and as a consultant I’ve had to find ways to help make sponsorship investment decisions. The challenge led me to develop a model of my own that has proven successful over time. One major caveat; the key steps below assume that you have already done your homework and determined that the audience you will be positioning your brand or product in front of is a good “fit” for your brand and overall strategy. Here are the five key elements of the model:

1) Discovery. Put boots on the ground. You’ve got to attend the venue, see the audience, see how they move and act.

2) Measured Media Analysis. Calculate the real value of the impressions based on a valuation for your market. In my model I’ve created a valuation based on several local-market, multi-media CPM figures. Add in frequency based on number of events, attendance at events, media coverage, insertions and reach of paid spots inserted in broadcast or exposed on websites. After that, add a quality score to each component of the package; for instance, a :30 TV spot or feature position on a home page is a much more valuable impression than a static sign in a concourse. The grand total of this analysis gives you a real-dollar value.

3) Qualitative Analysis. What is the emotional value to your company or brand? Rarely will the quantitative, real-dollar value reach the actual cost of the package. In every case you will have to assign a value or multiple to your analysis that attaches a value for associating your brand with the promoter, event or product. Expect the real-dollar value to equal at least 50-75% of the asking price for the package. The subjective value has to get you the rest of the way.

4) Negotiation. Once you know the value to your marketing plan, you’re ready to negotiate a fair value price. Two choices here: Present the venue, promoter, or agent with your price based on the package as it exists, or (usually more successful) negotiate for additional value in either reach or frequency elements.

5) Activation. This may be the most critical element, and it cannot be an afterthought. The whole purpose here is to promote your brand and engage with the audience. Plan for and budget to leverage your sponsorship. Invest in creative concepts to make your signage stand out. Plan to staff events and make personal connections through creative promotions. Brainstorm and identify unique ways to present your brand to make you stand out from the sea of other sponsors.

ODU’s Gray says he values inventory and packages based on three key elements; attendance, location and availability. Scarcity and demand of particular inventory will drive the price up, as with any other product. The key is to understand the value, budget for it appropriately, and activate in unique and engaging ways.

Seem like a lot of work? Well it is. You can do most of it in your head if you’re talking a $2,000 golf tournament sponsorship. But when you’re looking at a six-figure naming-rights or premier sponsorship that may span 3-5 years, you need to know what to expect.

Elliott councils others to carefully consider the term of the contract, as strategies can shift over time. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if more ‘mature’ companies, those who already have relatively high brand awareness, are looking for a more traditional return on their investment these days,” she adds. Velvet Marshall is faced with that kind of big hole right now, filling the name and title slot for the American Music Festival at the beach, vacated when Verizon Wireless decided to pull all of its event sponsorships.

Bottom line on sponsorship evaluations? When the money is big, there’s no such thing as a no-brainer. Find a way to engage the quantitative structure and measure it against your primary business objectives. It can be done.

Hampton Roads: Lean on your agency to bring your vision to life.

I’m not an ad guy.  Pretty risky statement for an agency VP who’s supposed to be a strategy guru.

I’m not an ad guy.  I’m a marketing guy.  Marketing@HamptonRoads

A marketing guy raised on the client side of the business.  And after many years on board with the agency that was my primary resource as marketing director for some pretty big communications companies, I have to share my biggest learning.

Clients simply do not lean on their ad agencies enough.  At least not for the right things.  See, I’m not talking about overnight turn-around on email blasts or video spots.  I’m not even talking about “will you guys explain that SEO SEM PPC SMO BFF LMAO WTF thing to me.” I’m talking about marketing.  Ideas.  Innovative media strategies.  Competitive set analysis.  Brand differentiation.  As a corporate marketer, it’s the stuff that I figured could only be really well thought out inside the walls of my own department, by my own staff.  That’s the stuff that I was accountable for; how could I push it out to others?  But I was selling myself short, and putting way too much pressure on my staff. A CEO or business owner that is really willing to engage its agency SHOULD find a valuable experience base to leverage

Agencies are full of energy, fresh learning, initiative and yes, creativity.  Lean on them for new media strategies, completely zero-based thinking and budgeting.  Challenge them to develop your marketing plan.

You’ll be amazed at the depth of thinking, assuming of course that you’re talking to the right agencies.   Start your work with an agency by providing just one piece of information; your BUSINESS objectives.  Find out if your agency is built on marketing muscle or not.  Make the agency accountable for the marketing strategies and ideas that will achieve those objectives.  At least lean on them for fuel and energy to ignite marketing ideas within your company.

If your agency is not willing to play at that level, to start from that position, then you have the wrong partner.  I’m so much smarter now than I was on the client side.  If ever I find myself back there again, I know exactly where my marketing muscle will come from.