We recently declined work with a company who had a very large budget for the year, because we knew that we could not offer an effective solution for them. They wanted everything from website design, SEO, marketing strategies, PR, to social media management services. After I spoke with the company, I knew that their best solution was to work with a more local agency, who had connections and an understanding of the local area. I offered to help with the process of recruiting a local agency, which turned out to be a very interesting exercise to do.
So what do you look for when recruiting a new agency?
Step #1 – Put your brief together in detail
Before you begin the search you first need to have a full brief. Be clear what services you require, along with a realistic budget for these services.
- Are you looking for a new website, if so, do you have an idea of what you would like from that website?
- You may have written that you are interested in SEO, but do you understand what this means? The agencies will be talking about off page and on page SEO, therefore familiarise yourself with this terminology before the interviews take place.
- Social media management – what platforms are you interested in them managing for you? Twitter requires a lot more content than Facebook and is therefore more time-consuming, so consider this when you are putting together your brief.
- PR – do you have goals for winning awards, tenders or require content in trade magazines or newspapers on a regular basis?
- Design – do you already have an established brand? So you have a culture, a mission statement or a company ethos that you can share within the brief?
- Organisational chart – it is good for a new marketing agency to have an understanding of the company structure and an organisational chart can be helpful.
- Who is your target audience? Has this been defined? If so, then this should be part of the brief.
Step #2 – Research the agencies
Once you have your brief then it is time to think about who to invite along to present their ideas to you. The research commences.
Where to start looking?
There are many places where you can find the names of local agencies. The first place to start is Google. Try keywords such as “marketing agency” “digital marketing” “social media management” “Digital Design and Development Agency” “Online Marketing Agency” – using the county rather than the town.
After a Google search, why not ask your audience? Put a post on LinkedIn or Facebook asking your audience for a recommendation. Who would they recommend? This is great as you will see a thread and names will appear more than once, which instils confidence in the agency.
(Be warned, if you add a post to LinkedIn, then be prepared to be inundated with social media and digital agencies posting “what they can do for you”. But really, you are looking for recommendations rather than being sold at by an agency). However, if someone is creative and perhaps sends you a message in a unique and different way that makes them stand out from the crowd (rather than just a comment below your thread saying – call me if you want a quote!), then certainly consider the innovative agency!
Now you have your list of agencies, it is time to continue with the research.
- Scout their website. Look to see what services are more prominent within the site as you will find that this is what they are most confident in implementing. For example, you will see that Green Umbrella provides websites. However, we are more developed and confident on the social media side of things and this oozes throughout the website.
- If website build is something that you are looking for, then check the agency's site for functionality, design and marketing messages. Are they using customer-focused language, or are they using lots of words such as “we” “our” “us”. Here is a checklist of things needed on a website from a marketing perspective.
- Online testimonials – do they have a portfolio? Have they got a testimonial or case study page on their website? What about LinkedIn, when was their last recommendation? What are the reviews like on their Facebook page?
- References. Online reviews are usually very positive, especially if it is on the agency's website, so now it is time to pick up the phone and speak to a minimum of two clients. Perhaps someone whose website they built a few years ago, or someone who they claim to be doing the SEO for. What is their experience like? The telephone is the best way to get “real” information as people can be reluctant to put anything negative in writing.
- Social Media profiles – they are a digital marketing agency and therefore they should be practising what they preach. Check out their Facebook page. When was the last time that they posted? Are they using video and live streaming on their page? Do they have a pinned post strategy? When was the last time they changed their cover photo? Go to www.likealyzer.com to see what their Facebook score is out of 100. Twitter – what is their follower/following ratio? Go to www.fakers.statuspeople.com and see if their numbers are built on fake or spam accounts? Do they tweet? What type of things are they tweeting? Remember, their content is a reflection of the quality of content that they will be managing for you, so this is important. LinkedIn – do they have a large following on their company page? Are they adding content to Publisher, and are they posting regularly on LinkedIn? (We have a whole process for analysing clients' social accounts, so please let us know if you would like help with this).
- Do they have a blog? When was the last time that they wrote a blog or added news to their website? Was the content customer focused or were they talking about themselves? If the agency specialises in SEO then they will know that customer-focused content is the best for SEO, and that you need to be posting at least once a week. A good agency will be leading by example.
Step #3 – Prepare your questions
So you have invited your agencies in to present their proposed strategy on how they can help you achieve the goals that were outlined in your brief. Do you have your questions prepared? A good marketing agency will have an experienced sales person who is focused on selling the benefits of working with his/her agency. It is important that you do not get side tracked, and to have a list of questions to keep you focused on the objective of the day. A small list of 4-5 questions will be sufficient. Think of the process in a similar way in which you was hiring a new member of staff. At the end of the day, it is a big investment, so take your time and make sure you are selecting the right person.
Questions to consider:-
- Can they provide you with a client list?
- What type of clients do they work with? Have they experience of working with a client in the same industry as you? Are there any conflicts of interest? (You don't want to work with an agency who is also managing your biggest competitor).
- Do they outsource their work? Sometimes this is not a problem, but it is good to know that there is more than one party involved. Many agencies outsource their work to designers, content writers, copyrighters, SEO experts etc – but you need to understand how long they have been working with these people and what happens if that relationship breaks down?
- Ask them about their techniques. For example, how often would they post on social media sites and what type of content works well? What is their technique for SEO? How often would they recommend that you produce a blog and how many words? Do they have an understanding of pay per click or social advertising? How would they conduct a keyword research exercise?
Step #4 – Request a meeting with their team
You can tell a lot by visiting the offices of a marketing company. What are the people like? What are the offices like? I can not express how important it is that you feel a connection to the company. You will be working with them for a long time, therefore it is important that you like the people that you will be working with. If they annoy you, or something about them just does not feel right then it should be a no. Even if it means going back to the drawing board.
Step #5 – The final negotiations
You have found an agency that you like, has great references and you have decided that they are for you. The next step is the small print!
- Talk about price ranges. Define what is included and more importantly, what is not included.
- Contract terms – how long are you signing up for and what is the termination period if things are not working out?
- Negotiate – even if you hate negotiating. If you don't ask, then you don't get!
- How open are they about their processes? Ask to see an example of a report that they produce for their clients. What is their process for review meetings, or strategy meetings? Where will they take place?
- NDAs – do they have an NDA? Non-disclosure agreements exist for a reason. How do you know that you are protected? They have a full list of your clients, your passwords to your social accounts. A professional agency will supply you with an NDA to sign and agree.
How you go through this process depends on the size and type of your company, the niche you activate in, the level of competition, what you’re willing to spend on marketing, and what your ultimate goal with it is.
Taking on the wrong agency can be very costly, so it makes complete sense to protect your investment by either hiring a consultant to help you with the process, or to thoroughly research the companies before you invite them to pitch.
What other details would you consider when searching for and hiring a digital agency? What would convince you to choose an agency over others?