what to share with industry peers

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Transparency is a major buzzword in agency life. It is imperative that an agency accurately represents its clients and that they know exactly what the agency is working on, what it is costing them, and what the plans are at each step of the marketing plan. But questions often come up when we have to worry about how transparent is too transparent?

I have young children so I spend a lot of my time at home talking about sharing. Share your toys. Share this banana. Share that bag of Goldfish crackers. Share the iPad. While pervasive for kids, sharing doesn’t always come into play for adults. When was the last time you shared your car with your neighbor? I don’t even share the coffee creamer at the office – if I could in good conscience do it, I’d label it with something passive aggressive with a thinly veiled threat of violence if you come between me and my Bailey’s French Vanilla coffee creamer, though I’m not quite that unbalanced. As adults, we seem disinclined to follow the “sharing means caring” mantra we drill into our children.

So we run into this slippery slope when working with clients – how much information do we want to share? How much of our “secret sauce” do we share with industry peers, colleagues, and heaven forbid, competitors? How much do we tell our clients about what we do so they understand the work being done but don’t opt to do it themselves? There isn’t a right answer and every agency handles it somewhat differently.

Here are two disparate examples of transparency that present two vastly different scenarios.

  1. Agency X creates a PPC campaign. Client Y requests a full keyword list and ad copy report of the PPC campaign. Agency X, believing in full transparency, sends all their keywords and customized ad copy to Client Y. Upon receipt of the documents, Client Y terminates their contract with Agency X and uses the keywords and ad copy that Agency X created in their own AdWords Express account.
  2. Agency A creates an SEO campaign, but no delineation of tasks is given to Client Y and the monthly fees Client Y pays are never clarified. Agency A does no recurring work for Client Y but continues to charge an SEO retainer for no actual services rendered. Since Client Y does not realize that work is not actively being performed, they continue to pay their monthly fees despite not seeing any results.

I’ve seen both scenarios firsthand over the course of my career and in both cases, someone lost. That isn’t sharing. That’s naiveté, betrayal, dishonesty, and monumental lack of transparency – but those are real concerns in the business world. In some cases, limits have to be drawn on an agency’s intellectual property (say, specific keywords and ad copy), but the work being done and reporting results have to be completely transparent. It seems like an endless struggle between opposing entities, but there has to be balance. In all things, balance – in all marketing relationships, balance.

At Smarter Searches, to find the balance, we often present full keyword lists and ad copy reports to clients, but collect them at the end of in-person meetings, sending more abbreviated lists of the most popular keywords each month to keep. We also include a change history report on every PPC account, ensuring that we demonstrate to our clients that we didn’t “set it and forget it” when it comes to their online advertising. Everything is itemized in a proposal and updated and reviewed every six months to ensure we aren’t continuing with work that isn’t effective.  This has worked for us and has given us the balance we need to demonstrate our hard work, our results, and our good intentions.  But that’s our balance-  it may not work for everyone.

What works for you? Whether as an agency or a client, how do you handle sensitive information, intellectual property, reviews of work, and transparency? We want to hear about it!

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