Okay, in the name of full disclosure, I'm going to say that the following steps are not only the best way to select a marketing and advertising agency, they are also the direct way to our front door. Having said that, any CEO, business owner, CMO, or VP or Director of Marketing is bound to find this list helpful, especially if you have limited experience in working with an agency.
You will find some agencies that claim to be full-service, but are actually little more than old-school ad agencies that still think mass media marketing (TV, radio, print and direct-mail advertising) is the answer to everything. These agencies have little understanding of the power of content marketing and virtually no concept of the power of the inbound customer experience.
If you are simply looking for beautiful graphic design, or TV spots that are so creative you have no idea what's being sold, there are a bunch of those agencies out there. But be sure to look beyond their portfolio examples as the entire team that produced them may not even be with the agency anymore. On the other hand, if you’re really looking for an agency that is constantly looking for the latest and greatest ways to effectively brand and market your products and services for the best return on investment, here’s a good list of considerations:
- Think through your objectives before you interview the agency. Both you and the agency will ultimately become frustrated if the mission isn’t clear from the outset.
- Think through how you will measure success, that you and the agency have a grasp of the analytics, and that the desired outcome is fair and reasonable (and that your budget is commensurate with that outcome).
- Avoid lengthy RFPs that restrict creativity and force cookie-cutter responses. Some agencies have proposal templates that are, frankly, their best work.
- Ask about the agency’s processes. You need to be comfortable with how the agency works.
- Inquire about the agency’s “sweet spot” client, i.e. the size and type of business with which it has had the most success.
- Pay attention to the kinds of questions the agency representatives ask. Determine if they are asking intelligent/probing questions and/or are too quickly offering answers without fully understanding your problems.
- Listen to what the agency seems to think is most important, i.e. brand strategy, messaging, marketing, design, or the customer, to make sure it aligns with your objectives.
- Try to determine the agency’s knowledge and experience with identifying buyer personas, creating messaging to target them, and designing websites optimized to convert.
- Inquire about the agency's knowledge and experience with marketing automation software. Most agencies have had experience with email tools like Constant Contact, but that’s often as far as they’ve gone.
- Try to ascertain how the agency would support your social media presence, and what tools they use for posting, listening, monitoring and influencer marketing.
- Make sure you understand what their experience has been with content marketing and content strategy development, and research whether they practice what they preach, i.e., determine if they are doing for themselves what they advocate for their clients.
- Assess the agency's experience in similar industries or a demonstrated ability to learn and adapt via a broad spectrum of client industries.
- Determine how long they have been in business and the mix of experience on their staff. Ideally the agency will have a combination of young fresh talent and seasoned veterans in a company with a long proven track record.
- Size matters... but not as much as creativity, breadth of experience, and passion. Look for all of those with a special attention to that which best meets your objectives.
- Ask to see examples of branding and marketing strategies they’ve executed, and ask how successful they were. Remember, portfolio pieces often highlight the prettiest design, but not necessarily the most effective marketing efforts.
- Ensure that the agency is extremely familiar with evolving technologies, trends, and platforms, including custom apps and mobile, and are not overly dependent upon mass media advertising (for which they will expect a fat percentage).
- Inquire as to how they do research, i.e. how they will research your company, your industry, your competition and your customers.
- Realize that advertising industry awards (awards voted on by others in the industry) often reward clever and dazzling above proven results (hint: when you search for the agency's award winning client work, where does their client rank in search results).
- Make sure you understand the agency's pricing and invoicing. Too many times the agency relationship caves under the pressure of unexpected and inflated costs.
- Determine how much access you will have to the team members doing the work, or if your access will almost entirely be your account executive. You want to monitor efficiency (and having too many billable folks in the room can get expensive), but sometimes efficiency is simply talking directly to the person doing the work.
- Be sure that you are comfortable with the agency owner and/or core account team. No matter how good the work is, if you don’t like the folks you’re working with it’s going to be an unpleasant experience. You can often get a good sense of this through references, and online testimonials. Better yet, get a personal referral.
There are a lot of good marketing agencies out there, and with a bit of care and research, you can surely find one. As the original agency and/or as the agency that gets to pick up the pieces of another agency's broken relationship, we see two main, recurring challenges: 1. unclear/unrealistic expectations (including budgets that are too small for the work involved), and 2. a selection that was based primarily upon the size or degree of "cool" in the agency's design work, at the cost of an understanding of how truly different marketing is today.
If the agency you're talking to spends most of its time throwing around flowery buzz words and showing off its portfolio rather than asking smart questions and talking about demonstrated results, you should probably keep looking.
And a great place to start would be with 30dps. Please call to make an appointment today.