In today’s landscape it seems like there are unlimited ways to market your business and an infinite number of agencies out there specializing in just about every niche. So how do you determine which agency is the best fit for your organization? Here are 7 questions you need to ask when vetting a new agency for your campaign.
1. Who will be working on my account?
You wouldn’t hire a key employee without learning a little about them. The same should be said for hiring a marketing agency. A lot of agencies tout the professional experience of their executive team but don’t say much about the people that are working on your account day to day. Find out the names and background of everyone that will be working on your account. Ask to speak with them directly. Learn about their personalities and experience before you decide if they are right for you.
2. What is the agency’s structure?
There are multiple ways to organize and run a marketing agency, each with it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages. Many agencies keep everything in house with several departments performing different functions. Some agencies act as brokers, building the strategy and managing production, but outsource virtually all client work to offshore contractors and freelancers. Still other agencies use a hybrid hierarchy that leverages a combination of key internal marketers with a network of expert subcontractors to complete the work. Each brings their own unique advantages to the table. Before hiring a marketing agency, it is important to know exactly who is performing the work on your account.
3. What are your core competencies?
Every agency has their strengths and weaknesses. What are the core strengths of the agency you are vetting? Do they specialize in television, radio, print, or multimedia marketing? How much experience do they have with each? Find out how what mediums they prefer and what mediums they think are best for your campaign. If they suggest a medium they do not have experience with, ask them if they plan on contracting that work out to another agency or bringing someone in-house to complete the work. Ask them how they feel about working with other agencies to complement the campaign? A good agency will understand their strengths and will have no problem outsourcing or working with an outside agent on areas of your marketing that warrant additional expertise.
4. How do I compare to your other clients?
Give us names of other accounts you’ve worked on is a popular request from prospective advertisers. However, that question doesn’t really tell you a lot about the agency you’re vetting. Most agencies are going to list their proudest accomplishments only. Others will give you a preset list of their biggest and most notable clients. Neither of those answers really help you decide if the agency is right for you specifically.
Instead, ask how you compare to the agencies other clients. What kind of budget are they used to handling? Don’t get caught thinking more is better. You don’t want to be an agencies biggest or smallest client by any large stretch. If they haven’t worked with anyone your size it could indicate that you are too big for their capabilities. If they don’t routinely take on campaigns as small as yours, you could struggle getting attention and value from the. Ask the agency if they have worked with anyone in your industry before? If so, make sure they do not have a nondisclosure or DNC on file. Ask them what kind of clients they prefer. Do they specialize in any particular vertical market? Do they have experience with startups? Small businesses? B2C? B2B? By asking for a client comparison rather than a client roster you get a much better feel of how the agency will manage your campaign.
5. What is your typical onboarding strategy?
This may sound crazy but a number of marketing agencies today don’t have an established onboarding strategy for new clients. One of the biggest complaints we hear about the industry is that advertisers feel like agencies make big promises when going through the sales cycle, but once the check is in the bank all that attention and effort fades faster than a shooting star, leaving clients feeling jaded and angry. Go on take the money and run might make for a good song chorus, but high tensions and a lack of trust is no way to start a new marketing relationship.
To avoid the post-courting letdown ask your agency for a detailed onboarding strategy. The best agencies have a direct line of access to the people working on your account, define objectives and target dates, and establish a regular schedule of communication up front. The more organized the onboarding experience, the more organized your campaign’s execution will be, and the greater the likelihood of hitting your goals.
6. What kind of reporting can I expect?
The only real way to tell if your agency is doing their job well is to look at the numbers. However, if you’ve ever worked with an agency before (particularly in the digital sector) you know just how confusing the reporting can be. Analytic reports are an invaluable to marketers but they don’t always tell clients how good a job their agency is doing. Not to mention the very people creating the report are the ones being evaluated.
Before hiring a marketing agency make sure you both understand what the campaign goals are, and what key performance indicators (KPIs) will be measured. In most situations you don’t want to focus on trivial data like clicks and likes, instead focus on the number of leads, sales, or movement through the sales funnel. Reports should identify pain points and possible breakdown areas in the campaign and offer suggestions to improve results.
7. Is there a contract?
This seems self-explanatory but it’s important to know what you’re getting into before hiring a marketing agency. Contracts protect both your company and the agency, and shouldn’t be avoided altogether. However, a lot of agencies have unfavorable cancellation policies that lock clients into paying for months and sometimes even years of services, despite the results being generated. Make sure that any contract you sign is a win/win situation for both the agency and your company. And never sign a contract with an agency that does not have a clearly defined escape clause.
Client rosters, agency size, and budgets only give you a part of the picture. While they tell you a little about the success of the agency at signing clients, they don’t give you much insight into the agencies plans or capabilities as it relates to your company specifically. A lot goes into running a successful marketing campaign and building a long-term agency relationship. The next time you find yourself vetting a new marketing agency remember to ask these seven questions.
About the author
Jayson Bailey is a seasoned marketing executive and expert in multimedia communications. As CMO and Creative Director of CWG Digital, a boutique interactive agency in Phoenix Arizona, Jayson has developed and executed campaigns for businesses large and small, including a key role in the branding and launch of a Fortune 500 fastest growing company. Jayson’s passion is helping grow SMB client reach through digital mediums.