How to choose a marketing agency: 10 key pointers
Whose responsibility is strategy?
Not as obvious a question as it may sound. You should not outsource key decisions about how your business generates profit. These are too personal and too fundamental. Of course getting help with these is fine, but the business owners must be involved. So, the level and nature of the strategic input needs to be considered.
If it’s communications that you are buying then you need to be very careful that creativity does not override consistency and brand and market needs.
Who is in charge of your project?
Don’t assume that having met the Managing Director, they will be in day to day control of your project. Depending on the size of the agency, this may be unlikely; even undesirable. So, if there is an account manager to be appointed, you should know who they are.
As well as who is in charge of the project, making the key decisions, you also need to know who is delivering key aspects of the work.
How is the team comprised?
Marketing requires a mix of skills. Strategic, creative, content, technical and management. Do you know who will do what? Is the mix of skills comprehensive when considered against the needs of your project?
What is their background?
Don’t assume that all agencies are the same. People and teams that work in marketing come from a range of backgrounds: Traditionally trained marketers. PR. Events. Digital. Social media. Technical. Design. Does your agency have a tendency towards one or other of these? Have they recently expanded from one of these specialist areas into something wider? How suited is this to your needs?
What is their range of services?
If you are paying money for a service then hopefully it is not the first time they have provided such a thing. Is the service proposed within the core business or specialism of the person or company concerned or is it a stretch for them? What risk does this pose? Are they offering too wide a range of things as to be credible or is it a range of inter-related things that it makes sense to deliver together?
- If they are there to sell you particular marketing services chosen in advance, why should they be developing your strategy? Isn’t this a bit like writing their own brief? You should write their brief.
- Do they change regularly or widely? What does this say about the level of specialism you are getting?
Who will write the content?
With web projects, if this is left to the client, then that might be fine. But if you suddenly get new business to take care of and can’t fulfil your commitments in relation to the deadlines, where does this leave the project?
What if you write more or less content than expected or you change your mind about the structure, the number of pages etc? You can see that content development needs to be carefully built in to the timeline.
It can be just as bad if the agency is doing content. You should know who specifically is doing it and what input they need from you. With shorter pieces of writing (advertising for example) this will be the main aspect of the work, and will therefore be a key deliverable of the agency.
There are different styles of content too. And different approaches to its development. Technical such as keywords, advertising type or jargonistic to name a few. Then there is good old fashioned copying from the competition. Definitely don’t do that!
What are the deliverables and in what form?
What is their track record?
You will of course want to work with a team that knows what they are doing and has done relevant work before. Please don’t obsess about ‘industry’ experience or having done the exact same project before. Your business is supposed to be different. No two marketing projects are supposed to be the same. You have to value your uniqueness and be true to your brand. It is usually good to get wider viewpoints, including those outside of your immediate circle. There should be competence and expertise on offer to make this happen of course.
How do they talk about marketing?
Possibly the most important factor since it basically encompasses all of the others. Listen carefully to how they describe what they do and how they think about marketing:
- What is it?
- What is the purpose?
- What is it for?
- Why is it important?
- How can you do it better?
Do they take a wide or a narrow view of marketing? Is it just about getting customers or is there something bigger and longer term at stake? Are you investing in something that has relative permanence, or something that you will try out, and can potentially be replaced a few months down the line? What will the recommended techniques do for your reputation after customers have bought?
The language used can give a clue as to the approach taken and the rationale behind it.