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Working with a Destination Marketing Agency: 3 Paths

Working with a Destination Marketing Agency

At lunch during a tourism conference that we sponsored last year, we were assigned tables where we could talk to those that sat at our table about a pre-determined and assigned facet of our business for about an hour. When a person selling promotional items decided to take our branding table, it left me concerned. I’m not gonna take her table, sit, and talk to people about pens and screen cleaners for an hour.

I decided to let the coordinator know. His response: “Who cares? It’s all just marketing.”

I’m sure a lot of people feel that way but the truth is that marketing is broad and varied, and agencies can be very different from one another. Their offerings, pricing models, specializations, operating procedures, reporting, meeting cadences—and especially the client relationship—can be completely different from option to option. Looking through the lens of a destination marketing agency, there are three distinct categories that agencies can choose from when structuring their relationships, and the related costs can be very different as well.

Path #1: Done For You (DFY)

This is by far the most expensive option. Here, the agency serves as your complete marketing department, providing the research, strategy, creative, content, reporting, channel management, and attending frequent meetings (often weekly or bi-weekly). The results gained from a DFY relationship can come more quickly since you have the agency’s expertise and skills engaged throughout the program.

This is commonly called an Agency-of-Record (AOR) relationship. The agency brings all of its resources to bear, including partnerships, senior leadership, and value-added media opportunities. Most of our clients at Imagine fall into the DFY category, though we’re not exclusive to that type of arrangement.

The responsibility of the client is more based on feedback, providing information, and reviewing/approving campaigns. It’s a great option for destinations that have the money but don’t have the time. Since most destinations have a shortage of both, let’s move on.

Path #2: Done With You (DWY)

This one is the most common, where the workload is more evenly distributed. The agency covers the more technical parts of the marketing program (web development, video production, campaign strategy, SEO, graphic design) and the client manages the social media posting, email marketing, event planning, etc. It’s more of a collaborative relationship since seemingly every project is a team effort.

In this arrangement, the client typically uses their own resources and relationships for third-party services like printing and web hosting. they may also have other agencies they work with for PR, research, and so on. In the past, many of our relationships were set up this way and it’s frequency has diminished over time.

The responsibility of the client is much greater than the DFY arrangement, and it’s reflected in the pricing—typically 50-60% that of DFY. It’s the most balanced, and results may come more slowly, but they’ll surely come in time.

Path #3: Do It Yourself (DIY)

For those with time on their hands, some technical knowledge, and very little budget, a DIY path may be the only viable option. In this case, the agency’s contribution is strictly consultative, offering expertise without implementation. Monthly calls are the norm, structured as such:

  1. Address any top concerns.
  2. Evaluate progress from the last call.
  3. Brainstorm steps to move forward.
  4. Assign action items (for the agency to think about and for the client to do).

This is less of a relationship since it depends on the agency simply offering advice with the responsibility of carrying it out squarely on the client. This means that the scope will be smaller than the other two options, progress will be very slow, and success lies mainly in the work performed by the client. It can be a good start since the financial commitment is low and the client can test-drive the agency, but it’s not advised for the long term.

Since we work with a lot of smaller destinations, this is something we offer to destinations that are:

  •  Just starting out with a new DMO and aren’t ready for long-term commitments.
  • Haven’t diversified their funding yet, so their budget is very low.
  • Very small and don’t have the need for more than ongoing guidance.
  • In need of addressing only a handful of issues, and they have the time to implement the solutions.


The three paths of a destination marketing agency relationship cover a broad spectrum of how relationships can be structured. Depending on the needs and budget, there’s probably a path a destination can take to get the support they need.

No two destinations are the same.

We can help you solve your unique challenges. Schedule a call today.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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