At its best, the client-agency relationship is a fruitful collaboration. Clients help agencies understand their business realities. Agencies help clients find the best way forward based on what they learn. Together, they hatch a plan that leads to success for everyone at the table.

But some conversations are linchpins with the potential to make or break that relationship. We’re talking about budgets and goals. A lack of clarity in either conversation can, at best, cause confusion. At worst, it can derail an entire campaign. In reality, a business’s goals and budget are two sides of the same coin, not separate conversations. They’re the parameters that determine the strategy and what success actually looks like. And whether everyone involved begins with realistic expectations. Let’s take a closer look at ways this conversation can break down.

Discussing Goals Before Budget

A business’s goals are often discussed first, but not the budget. The reasons for this vary from client to client. In these cases, the agency develops strategies to achieve the stated goals, and then presents the associated costs. If the budget falls short, the client’s urge may be to cherry-pick services to fit the cost to the budget. The problem is that the strategy was designed to achieve particular results, and stripping out key tactics makes it less likely for the strategy to be successful.

Example: An Integrated Campaign

Imagine a client’s goal is to sell X widgets in X months. An integrated strategy is developed around SEM, display advertising, retargeting and custom landing pages. Unfortunately, the cost to reach those goals exceeds the client’s budget, and it’s suggested they remove the retargeting component to save on cost. But the strategists understand retargeting is key to staying top of mind and swaying customers who are considering their options, and eliminating it will negatively impact potential sales. A better option would be to leave the strategy intact, but test its effectiveness with a trial run. This could mean, for example, shortening the length of the campaign, allowing the agency to collect data and determine if the strategy is likely to meet the client’s goals. If the strategy is driving results, the client can confidently invest more budget. If there’s simply no more budget available, the best option would be to adjust down expectations as to what goals can be realistically achieved.

A Budget with No Firm Goals

Another common scenario: Budgets are discussed without any particular goals in mind. But a lack of clear goals means it’s impossible to know whether a campaign is generating real ROI for the client. Or to put it another way, without knowing what success looks like, the campaign can only look like a failure. In the end, this can lead to vague expectations, confusion and client dissatisfaction.

Example: Email List Growth

This time, let’s say the client wants to increase the number of subscribers to its newsletter, and provides a budget, but has no firm goal in mind besides general list growth. Since the growth they want to achieve is unclear, they won’t know whether they’re seeing a real return. Understanding the value of an email subscriber will go a long way in determining the ROI of the campaign. Then setting very specific goals of, say, growing the subscriber base by 10% will help both the client and the agency know if the campaign is on track to meet expectations. And as with our first example, it’s important that the agency be able to collect data and make campaign adjustments as needed to achieve the desired results. So goals with realistic timelines are critical. In short, a budget mismatched to goals results in unrealistic expectations, strategies that fall flat, and potentially soured relationships. By discussing what budgets can realistically deliver at the outset, all parties can agree on a strategy designed to leverage the most impactful solutions, without denying those very real business realities.

Want to leverage MassLive Media’s experience in helping clients of different sizes and industries set achievable goals aligned with budget? Contact us to elevate your marketing campaigns and drive results.