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Phase 3

Phase 3 is an integrated marketing services company which provides solutions across the print and marketing spectrum. We were founded in Atlanta, GA in 2001 and have served corporate and enterprise clients across the country for over 20 years.

7 Tips for Staying on Budget When Working with a Marketing Agency

By Phase 3
June 02, 2023



NOTE: This article is an update of this article originally published in 2020.

If only we had a nickel (or a dime) for every new client that's told us they've felt nickel-and-dimed by marketing firms they've worked with in the past. This client complaint is so common—and so avoidable, as long as both the client and marketing partner know how to avoid scope creep and other success killers. With tight budgets and the threat of a recession, it's not good business to risk extra unexpected expenses when working with vendors. However, that doesn't mean you should pull up stakes and move all marketing functions in-house. That could also be expensive.


Consider this article a quick primer to avoid those pesky "that-will-be-an-additional-charge" emails that pop up when everyone isn't on the same page. Instead, here are seven tips for staying within scope and on budget when working with a marketing partner.


1. Don’t Keep Your Budget a Secret

Many business leaders think that if they tell their marketing partner what they’ve budgeted for a project or a contract, the marketing partner will spend it all. However, if you’re working with a reputable partner, this is not generally the truth. Being transparent about your budget is essential to getting the most out of your partnership. You will receive more accurate bids and more creative ways to optimize every dollar. Before starting any project, agree on a budget with the agency that considers all the costs involved, such as design, development, copywriting, and media placement.

That decreases the possibility of surprises down the line for both sides. Read more about why sharing your budget is essential in our recent blog post.


2. Know What You're Doing & Why You're Doing It

Every successful marketing partnership and every subsequent creative project starts with clear goals and objectives. Your goals are longer-term achievable outcomes, while an objective is a short-term measurable action to achieve an overall goal. While different, the two terms should be used in unison.


For your long-term goals, ask yourself:


  • What are you hoping to accomplish with this partnership?
  • How would you define “success” for this partnership?
  • What are the most important elements you expect your partner to provide you?


Some examples of your goals could be to reach a new market, boost lead generation, or save payroll budget.


For the short term, your objectives are more project-based. For example, if your sales team wants a brochure, here are some questions to help you set objectives.


  • Why are we creating this brochure?
  • Who is the brochure targeted to?
  • How will it be distributed, and how often will it need to be updated?
  • What do we want the audience to know after reading it?
  • How do we want the audience to feel after reading it?
  • What do we want the audience to do?
  • How will we measure the success of this project?


Your short-term objectives for a project like this could include a specific amount of sales or new leads and staying within your budget. The best objectives are highly measurable and always drive the achievement of an overall goal.


3. Establish Clear Communication Channels

Building a solid partner relationship starts with open and honest communication that ensures everyone is on the same page from concept to solution. Every client has a different style and preference for communication, so a good partner will find out your expectations up front to set up clear and consistent communication channels that work for everyone. Here are some questions they may ask you to consider.


  • How often will we meet?
  • Will we meet in person or via videoconference?
  • What project information do we need to convey?
  • How often should we touch base on projects?
  • Who needs to receive this project information?
  • What is the most appropriate communication channel for this information? (e.g. email, phone call, meeting, text, Slack, etc.)
  • What are the expectations for response time and availability?
  • How will we measure the effectiveness of our communication plan?
  • How will we address gaps or issues in our communication plan?


It helps to have a single primary point of contact on both ends for the most consistent and clear communication. If others need to be involved in individual projects, maintain that "person in charge" hierarchy for best results. If problems arise, they can be quickly communicated and addressed. By answering these questions, you can define and establish clear and effective communication channels that will strengthen your partnership and avoid issues.


4. Gather Your “Ingredients”

If you've ever baked cookies from scratch, you probably checked your kitchen to ensure you had all the ingredients before mixing. Marketing projects work much the same way. And yet, clients often ask their marketing partner to use placeholder text, placeholder images, and even (gasp!) placeholder video clips—to "save time" and "not delay" getting started. While it seems like a good idea for the creative team to "get to work" while you're tracking down or approving key assets, it's a recipe for racking up additional costs you didn't account for.


Think of it this way. You wouldn't launch a new product line without having your raw materials, packaging, and distribution methods set up and ready to go. Or you wouldn't open a new store without having the inventory and employees in place. If you did either of these things, you risk increased costs from fast-tracking everything you don't have or losing customers and brand value. Instead, save yourself the expense and headache of redesigning or reproducing marketing projects by having all the critical elements you need upfront.


5. Have a Detailed Timeline for Each Project

Delays are a common source of added expense for a marketing project. Establishing a detailed timeline at the beginning of each project is extremely important to ensure that the project is completed in a timely and efficient manner. A timeline helps keep everyone on the team accountable. It can also help you track progress and identify potential roadblocks before they become significant issues. In addition, a detailed timeline can ensure that all necessary tasks are done before critical deadlines, which will help keep the project within budget. Overall, timelines are an essential tool for successful project management and can help to ensure that your marketing projects are completed on time, within budget, and with the highest quality.


6. Honor the Editing Process

Within the project timeline, the editing process can be one of the most common areas of inefficiency. Most project estimates include two rounds of edits. If you think you'll need more, build them into the timeline at the beginning. While you are doing that, plan for who will be involved in the editing. Thinking this strategy through at the outset helps you be more deliberate in editing and saves you time and money. Here's an example of a detailed editing strategy.


Round 1: This first round of editing should only be done by the primary point of contact. This is your chance to make important adjustments before anyone else takes a look.

Round 2: The second round should include key stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) who need to weigh in and triple-check the content. Set hard and fast deadlines for them to send you their feedback. Gather all their feedback into one document, then (and this is critical) you, as the lead, reconcile any conflicting input before you send it back to your marketing partner.

Round 3: If a round 3 is necessary, it is most likely for the higher-ups (or further outs). Of course, you should get their input at the beginning of the project to ensure their direction is considered (and the finished product won't come as a complete surprise). Then, when you send the project for edits, let them know all internal stakeholders and SMEs have reviewed it, and it is being provided for their final blessing. Again, set strict deadlines for them to get their feedback to you.

Establishing the editing process at the beginning and then sticking to the plan helps you manage expectations and prevent unhappy surprises—it gives you leverage to ensure everyone involved understands their role and takes the time to provide a thorough and thoughtful edit during their round.


7. Focus on Outcomes

It's easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day decisions of any marketing professional but don't forget to track the results of each project and compare them to your goals and objectives. With this critical information, you can course-correct messaging that needs tweaking and optimize individual campaign budgets when required. When you focus on your tangible outcomes, you can better judge how your partnership is going based on a calculated ROI.


At Phase 3, we make it our job to not only provide great marketing—but to provide great advice about how to optimize your marketing budget. We want to be your partner and collaborator in all your marketing and branding needs. We'll walk alongside you to achieve your business goals without the specter of unexpected charges.

If we can help you start a new marketing project and keep it on track or build a new brand strategy from scratch, give us a shout! We’d love to hear from you.