skydiving with a partner over dry land
PHOTO: Jakob Owens

We are in an era where large swatches of creative development (46%), programmatic media (46%) and other media buying services (45%) are contracted out. Look at your own marketing ecosystem. Your product campaigns likely involve a design agency, external customer support call center functions (either live or chat), and you surely leverage external hosting for some martech components.

What about all of the other touchpoints that go hand in hand with marketing?

All of these factors can inadvertently tarnish the brand and cost your organization its reputation. The trust you have built with your customers and prospects is only as protected as the actions and risks generated by your marketing partners, regardless of which function they fulfill. Consider every aspect of your marketing ecosystem: have you appropriately reviewed and vetted your partners? Oversight doesn’t end when the contract is signed. So what does ongoing oversight look like?

Trust and ... Creative and Development Partners

You may have hired an agency of record or gone through an individual procurement screening at the time of contract negotiations for your marketing needs. But vendor employees change over time, management comes and goes priorities, and partners invest in their infrastructure shifts. If you haven’t already, you might:

  • Set up a news alert on your partners and make it someone’s job to keep an eye on the vendor’s public reputation. If your partner shifts from continually being in the news for newly received contract awards to suddenly falling silent, the change can quickly cue you into a potential issue.
  • Schedule a quarterly check-in with your procurement or contracting team. Make notes about your creative and development partners’ performance, ability to meet deadlines and overarching sentiment.
  • Check-in annually with your partner around their growth, customer base, performance on your account, investment into their people development, and their adoption of new industry and regulatory practices.
  • Periodically take a "pulse check" with the individuals working on your marketing creatives or performing development work. If these individuals are happy employees, they will likely be bringing their best to your engagement. Conversely, if they are showing signs of burn out, or planning to jump ship soon, that could spell out not only subpar delivery performance but also a disregard for your organization's security protocols and operational norms.

To ensure your creative and development partners are aligned with your expectations and risk profile, focus on fortifying your existing branding, security, accessibility, email marketing, and spam, cookies and tracking, data protection, and vendor digital policies.

Related Article: Losing Sleep Over Your Lack of Digital Policy? You Should Be

Trust and ... Technology and Social Platform Partners

Hosted technology solutions such as Salesforce, Marketo and HubSpot have continually changing roadmaps, evolving software, ongoing acquisition and new integrations, making vetting them hard. More importantly, it's unlikely you'll be able to dictate your partner's performance demands, especially when it comes to social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. If you haven’t already, consider:

  • Quarterly reviews of your risk tolerance for technology and social media platform partners risk. For example, you can't control a hosted platform's technical infrastructure or its employees’ data security practices. These risks are ever-present. But if you want to contain the risk to your reputation should a data breach occur, consider limiting your customers’ data on the platform (e.g., DMs of account numbers).
  • Regularly listen to customer chatter in social media and other channels to understand the sentiment around your platform partners. If your prospects and customers could view your organization negatively as a result of the association, perhaps it is the right time to distance yourself.
  • Stay on top of product roadmaps and announcements of upcoming releases. For example, some organizations started pulling away from Facebook and Twitter advertising when the companies began to fact-check political and news statements. While nobody knew how the world would react, withdrawing advertising was a way to shield the organization by preventing the brand from appearing next to a potentially politically-sensitive story.

To mitigate risk and maximize your outsourced marketing capabilities, focus on enriching your organization’s technology identification and selection, advertising, cloud assurance, social media, analytics hand data collection, data protection, end user-generated content, data localization, and hosting digital policies.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Trust and ... Conversion Partners

Conversion partners are processors such as PayPal or banks, online shops or customer service centers that help convert your marketing efforts into bottom-line sales. These vendors tend to be slightly removed from your marketing operations. Still, they are most often outsourced for the repetitive nature of the activity and their ability to achieve economies of scale. However, these are also the most significant areas of weakness for any marketing shop, especially when it comes to data protection and security. If you haven’t already, consider:

  • Yearly reviews to ensure your conversion partners are staying on top of laws and regulations. The best way for a partner to instill confidence is to comply with the strict standards and rules of a quality management organization. If your conversion partner is accepting and processing payments on your behalf, the vendor should adhere and comply with the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) created and updated annually by the PCI Security Council.
  • Quarterly checks by your procurement or contracting team to ensure your partner is protecting and securing sensitive data, along with your confidential business information. This means leveraging point-to-point encryption, tokenization or other appropriate data protection mechanisms. Many headlines associated with data breaches point to a lack of patching and encryption standards adoption as the root cause of data loss.
  • Developing and reviewing a customer care center or outsourced sales team scorecards on a monthly basis. As the first point of contact, these partners need to represent you well, leave customers with a sense of satisfaction and build loyalty. If you expect your marketing to succeed and your business thrives, conversion partners are a vital component of that equation.

To increase the integrity of your conversion partners, focus on data processor, security, breach reporting and management, data ownership and portability, disaster recovery and business continuity, analytics and metrics collection, and social media listening policies.

Related Article: Should We Audit at the Speed of Risk?

Make Sure Your Partners Are Strategic Allies, Not Trojan Horses

Marketing outsourcing is a reality for every organization, as it's impossible to handle all capabilities and technologies in-house. However, pick your marketing partners wisely, with a clear understanding of the risks and dangers of such collaboration. Defining and adopting a process to verify your vendors, processors and contractors periodically can ensure your business is poised for joint success.

To fortify your efforts, ensure that all partners are aware of your expectations related to adhering to your organization’s digital policies. For technology and platforms where you cannot dictate terms, create policies that will trigger partner reviews when circumstances change, whether in market position, natural disasters, shifts in technology or even changes in marketing objectives.

While your partners are a strategic marketing weapon, make sure you can fully trust them without risking your brand, reputation or customer trust.