Marketing agencies come in all shapes and sizes, and with different levels of experience and expertise. With so much choice, how might you select?
To start, what kind of organisation are you? If you are large, then consider a roster of agencies to provide both the breadth of provision likely to be required – ranging from strategic oversight, to specialist disciplines, to the ability to quickly action opportunistic campaigns. Alternatively, appoint a lead agency with a strategic overview, supported by a second tier of specialists to which they outsource particular services.
If you work in a disruptive sector, such as fintech, biochemicals and AI, consider a specialist agency featuring individuals with a sound understanding of your sector. Naturally you need to manage potential conflicts of interest when selecting an agency who may be working with competitors in the same field.
If you are a start up with very limited funds, you might like to find a friendly freelance designer to provide the basics at minimum cost. If you are a reasonably well-funded start-up, or a small or medium size organisation, then a full-service agency is usually best. By working in close partnership with an agency that has all the core disciplines in-house, you will enjoy that synergy. Your direct costs should be lower as you will benefit from both economy of scale and centralised functions, such as Account Management. You will also avoid having to become the glue between the different agencies to ensure activity is synced. Moreover, your single agency will be accountable for both the work they deliver and the impacts on your growth; with no one else clouding that key objective.
So, how do you choose between the options?
Rely on your network:
Whether via LinkedIn, Business Forums or Trade Bodies, ask your network who they trust and why; including their product, client service, technical support and reporting. Above all, ask how the agency empowered their growth.
Ensure you know what you are looking for. Set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based objectives – and ensure your candidates convince you that they can achieve these.
Beware ‘cobbler’s shoes’:
Is the prospective agency keen to persuade you of the importance of marketing investment, but clearly not doing so themselves? Avoid.
Understand their approach:
Any reputable agency will create a comprehensive project roadmap tailored to you. This should mirror your SMART objectives.
Investing in talent?
Agencies have zero assets other than their people. Are they looking after theirs? High attrition will compromise your outcomes. Ask around; LinkedIn works well.
Control the budget:
Providing your objectives are SMART, then expect a detailed and accurate scoping and fee proposal. Initial phases may need to be completed before later actions can be accurately costed; in which case request estimates for the types of projects that may be scoped at later stages.
It is not about the investment, but the value generated:
Before spending a single pound with an agency, get comfortable that your investment will return a minimum of x 5 sales or x 2.5 profits; whichever you are seeking at that time. They should be able to provide compelling evidence of why you can trust them.
One final consideration is to ensure that your agency is sufficiently well-funded to handle your account. The ability to present great work to clients is not the same as the ability to prudently manage a business. That said, asking for part payment with order and staged payments is not unusual. Projects often take months to complete, and so it is reasonable to settle as stages are completed.
Five years ago, I might have concluded with ‘go with your gut’. Today, the prevalence of digital activity and tracking in the marketing mix means that the best agency for you will provide compelling commercial evidence why you should partner with them. Be diligent in building your evidence base and go where it takes you.
Paul Mackman, Company Director