“…most executives will take a look, realize the difficulty in interpretation in 15 – 20 seconds, and go back to shooting from the gut. Even if the report has hidden gold.”
– Avinash Kaushik (Former Sr. Director of Global Analytics at Google) 

I probably get more questions from agency owners about reporting than any other topic. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that, when I meet an agency owner, they ask me what I do for reporting. 

The classic marketing response of “it depends” is as appropriate as it is frustrating.

Reporting in a marketing agency is tricky.  

If you are fortunate enough to have a client that actually reads the reports you send, you may have the unfortunate scenario of getting complaints about reports. 

Reports exist for three reasons:

  1. Communicating what happened
  2. Communicating why it happened
  3. Communicating the value you’re providing to your client 

Most reports tend to do a great job of fulfilling the first reason and fail to fulfill the second and third.

Let’s look at each reason for reporting and break down how to do it well. 

Communicating What Happened

Metrics are an essential part of reporting. When the right metrics go up, you know things are going well.  

However, it’s easy to share too much information with clients.  

Sometimes clients ask for more metrics. They’ll ask for specific numbers to be shown in their reports and they often have a good reason for it.  

Giving them a ton of information right off the bat seems like a great way to avoid them asking for more charts or graphs, right?

If your client is a super-savvy marketer with a ton of experience in data and analytics, yes. Giving them lots of metrics, charts, graphs, etc, will likely give them what they want. 

Honestly, though, most clients aren’t like that.  

Most clients, whether small business owners or CMOs will get fixated on the wrong metrics because of a lack of understanding. It’s not that they don’t understand the point of marketing, but they have lots of other details to distract them from what’s important in the long run. 

Thus, you get clients seeing your CPCs in a PPC report and demanding that you bid down (ignoring what that will do to their lead flow). You’ll have them demanding a lower bounce rate for a page designed to drive phone calls.  

If you don’t have specific KPIs from the client (usually CPL, MQL, etc for lead gen, AOV, ROAS, or Profit for ecomm), aim for a basic enough set of metrics that you can explain how well their marketing efforts are performing.

Many clients don’t need to see top campaigns, top keywords, or top landing pages. You’d be better off showing them a general overview with some highlights.

The less experience they have with data and analytics, the less you should show. Just keep it simple and stick to the primary KPIs. If they ask for more, you can share more when they ask or include it in the reports moving forward if it makes sense. You’re not hiding information from them, you’re filtering out the extraneous details. 

Communicating Why It Happened

This is where most marketers fail in their reporting. 

The entire point of sharing what happened is to provide an update on performance. If they don’t know why their marketing is improving or getting worse, how will they know whether you’re helping them? 

The story behind the data is arguably more important than the data itself. The data is just the “proof” of the story and its impact on your client’s business.

“We tested a new landing page variant with headlines focused on the problem we solve vs the benefits of our service and saw a 12% increase to conversion rate” is much more helpful than simply stating “Conversion Rate: 8.73% (up 12%)”. 

Sometimes this is shared to explain to a business owner the effects of what you’re doing and how it will impact their business. Other times it is to help the marketing director, CMO, etc understand their market better and adapt their other marketing channels to this new information. 

Regardless of whom you’re speaking to, the benefit of the why explanation is to summarize the story behind the data and provide context.  

Ok, the CTR went way up, but why? Was it a result of testing new ad copy, adding a bunch of negative keywords, or a massive dip in impressions from seasonal fluctuations? 

The context behind the changes can work wonders if you need to soften the blow on bad performance or prepare clients for a dip after their current spike in performance. 

Humans crave certainty, especially in situations that involve other people. Predicting the future (knowing what to expect) is a normal part of life and we get nervous and anxious when we are uncertain about our future and how it will affect us. 

Especially in situations where your point of contact in a business has a boss to report to, understanding why things are the way they are and predicting what may happen could make the difference between them keeping their job or having to find a new one. 

Which leads us to…

Communicating The Value You’re Providing To The Client

Not all of the value you provide the client is easy to perceive.

Yes, you’re providing value by generating revenue for their business through leads or sales. But you’re also providing value by helping them gain certainty about their current and near-future situation. 

You’re providing value by understanding what they don’t have the time, expertise, or desire to understand as fully as you do. You’re providing value by simplifying the data, explaining how and why it changed, and sharing what to do about it.  

In many cases, you’re providing data by giving them information to take to their boss or shareholders. In other cases, you’re giving them data by which they can make major business decisions.

You’re giving them job security and peace of mind, letting them know you have their back and their best interest at heart. You’re showing them that you’re on their team, not trying to replace it. That they are providing value to their boss by having found you and serving as the business and industry expert to supplement your marketing expertise. 

The more non-metric information you share in your reports, the more valuable they are. Yes, the metrics are essential, but only as a vehicle to discuss how your efforts are helping them and what you’re going to do to maintain good performance or fix poor performance.

Bringing It All Together

I have a couple of ways of addressing these purposes in my reporting. 

Note, most of my clients are pretty small, as I do a lot of white label ad management for agencies. For smaller clients, I generally put some simple highlights in a bullet list (KPIs with change percentage, up or down), then have 3 sections of ll Do Next.

This allows me to provide value by sharing some key metrics and how they changed vs the last reporting period. Then I provide value in explaining the work I did, giving them peace of mind that work is being done and setting the context for the next section. I share the result of my efforts and a bit more context about the changes mentioned in the highlights, then end with a quick summary of my plans for the next reporting period and what I hope to achieve with them.

I also link to a full dashboard if they want more metrics, but it’s pretty basic. A KPIs overview page, a 90-day trends page (clients love to see changes over time), and a full keyword performance page. The dashboard is usually forgotten, but it’s more of a “nice to have” than anything else.

Lastly, including a link to my calendar to schedule a call to review the performance is a great way to add more value. This prevents them from having to ask questions because you’re building in the opportunity to ask them on a call, which helps them save face if they feel embarrassed by not understanding something. 

It is also much easier to retain clients if you have a relationship with them and calls are way better than emails if you want to build and maintain relationships.

For larger clients, it’s usually better to put together a slide deck with the above information. Structure it in a way that will allow you to explain everything to your point of contact, but will also allow your POC to redeliver the same report to their boss. This will be a huge win for them (bonus points for including extra context in the “Speakers notes” for each slide). 


Reporting is an update about performance, yes, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a prompt for deeper conversations. It’s an opportunity to increase the value you provide to your client and to prove that value. It’s about strengthening your relationship with your client through clear and consistent communication.

However you decide to do it, keeping these things in mind will help you deliver greater value to your clients and avoid the surprise cancellations that come from them being too embarrassed to ask for clearer communication.