By Joe Weigel

A common challenge for many funeral homes is how to find the best marketing assistance for your firm. You are not big enough to hire a full-time person, but you know you need help. However, the thought of hiring an outside marketing partner can seem daunting, expensive, or even unnecessary—especially in a time where do-it-yourself websites and “plug and play” social media content are widely available. Before you engage a marketing professional, you should know what to expect so you can make the best decision for your business.

Working with a full-service ad firm, PR consultant, outside writer, graphic designer, web wizard, social media agency or other marketing partner entails a certain amount of risk. You hope they’ll be effective at capturing the messages you want while reflecting and strengthening your company’s reputation and culture. How you approach your needs plays the most critical role in whether they succeed.

What can you do to reduce the risk and ensure the marketing partner you select will bring you the solution you hope to see? These twelve simple steps are a great start. By the way, many of these steps can be used to work with any outside resource you wish to employ – lawyers, accountants, IT personnel, HR professionals, etc. Additionally, many of these can improve your current working relationship with a marketing partner.

Be specific and detailed.
Don’t assume the partner has a complete grasp of your expectations. Share those in a document. One of the most effective tools for doing this is what’s known as a “marketing brief,” a document that spells out your objectives, the details, the audience, any offers, the desired call to action, as well as mandatory items such as logos and regulatory requirements. Most marketing resources have such a document that they will share (and help in the completion of it.) I call the one I use the “Marketing Blueprint”. Completing a brief can help you think through all aspects of the project. Just as important, it gives you a framework against which you can evaluate the partner’s work.

Know what you’re after with the project or assignment.
“I’ll know what I want when I see it” isn’t direction … it’s a challenge given to the partner to see if they are capable of reading minds. I’ve teamed up with dozens of talented marketing partners over the years, but none of them has proven to be psychic. If you can’t share a strong sense of what you hope to accomplish, even the most talented partner won’t be able to deliver it.

Direct, don’t dictate.
Tell the partner what needs to be done but avoid telling them exactly how they should do it. You’re probably working with them because of their expertise in finding the most effective way to convey a message or image. Allowing them to do what they do best and tapping into their knowledge and experience may produce results that far exceed your expectations.

Fulfill your promises.
If you expect the partner to deliver the project to you by the specified deadline, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain. When a project requires two weeks of work, and you’re a week late in providing the necessary information, you can’t expect the partner to hit the original due date.

Monitor the scope.
If the marketing partner based their cost estimate on a 4-page project, but now it’s grown into a 12-page project, it’s only fair to allow the partner to provide a revised cost estimate. It’s also helpful if you remind others at your firm of the project’s parameters and avoid what is called “scope creep”. “Yes, it would be nice to add three micro-sites to the website design, but our budget only covers the basic site.”

Be their guide.
Every funeral home is different, and no two review and approval processes are identical. Make sure your partners understand who will have the authority to review and suggest changes to the work. If you know one of the key reviewers has specific pet peeves (such as the overuse of exclamation points in marketing communications copy), make sure you share that beforehand with your partner.
Give clear guidance.
When you bring changes and corrections back, be specific and constructive. Saying things like “I can’t put my finger on it but I don’t like it” forces the partner to guess. At the same time, don’t make the changes for them, because they may be able to come up with a better way to accomplish what you’re after. If two reviewers provide conflicting feedback, sort out a solution before bringing it to the partner, rather than putting them in the impossible position of having to decide which reviewer’s opinion matters more.

Evaluate the project.
Marketing partners bring a lot to projects, from style and cleverness to craftsmanship and expertise, but the most important thing a professional marketing partner should deliver is effectiveness. After the project is complete and being used by your company, let them know how well (or how poorly) their work is meeting the company’s objectives. They’ll be proud of successes and eager to tweak efforts that aren’t meeting the need.

Establish terms for communication.
Different companies have different expectations when it comes to communication. Some prefer a hands-off approach, allowing the partner to do the work it does best with minimal interaction. Others prefer to have weekly (or even more frequent) meetings. Express your preference from the start.

Trust, but verify.
“Trust but verify” is a Russian proverb cautioning individuals to trust the people they work with, but to always verify that their trust is well-placed. In the context of working with a marketing resource, this means always taking the time to verify that what they’re telling you is true. It’s a good system of checks and balances that can help you get the best possible results.

Listen to expert recommendations.
Your marketing partner will serve as your advisor, providing you with pieces of advice about your project and relaying expertise to help you make better decisions. You hired this resource because you trust them as experts, so be prepared to listen to that advice.

Focus on outcomes.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the minutiae of individual tactics and low-level decisions within a project, but you’re much better off focusing on the bottom line. Judge the partner based on the outcomes they provide and keep outcomes as your highest priority.

On the Other Hand
In some cases, hiring a marketing resource might not always be the best solution for your marketing challenges. Here are two scenarios where you should refrain from hiring a marketing partner.

Scenario One: You don’t have time to invest in the relationship.
Marketing requires a genuine investment of time and energy. A marketing partner will require your enthusiasm and expertise, especially at the beginning of the project. You have to be ready to dig into deep conversations, research, and explore insights into your firm, your families, and their needs. If you want to hire someone and never talk to them again until the results are in, a marketing partner probably isn’t the right fit.

Scenario Two: You’re not clear about your marketing goals.
The lack of an established goal or deliverable may cost you money with little or no results. Avoid wasting money on an expensive marketing partner when you don’t know what you’re after. Some marketing firms will quickly understand that you’re new to the game and pile on additional services you might not need – at an extra cost.

Summary
When you get bogged down with any aspect of marketing, it’s time to hire an outside resource. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t hire a marketing partner just because you feel you need to outsource some work. Feeling overwhelmed is common when running a funeral home, especially in today’s environment – and it’s part of the equation when working with any outside resource – marketing or otherwise. But if you can stick with it, it’s worth it.

When you’re first getting started on the project, you may not see any results from your marketing efforts. It can take a while for you to see the results kick in. Sometimes it can take months to achieve the results you want to see. But, be patient with your marketing efforts and your marketing partner, and don’t give up. FBA


Joe Weigel is the founder of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a marketing firm that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated disciplines: strategy, branding, and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or [email protected]