“I’ve been burnt before…” I hear this phrase far too regularly from prospects looking to work with us. I even read those words on a LinkedIn post this morning from someone looking at hiring a digital marketing agency! Sometimes it feels like Digital Marketing Agencies and Social Media Agencies have become seen as the modern-day double glazing salespeople. (If you’re not old enough to get that reference – please don’t tell me!)
I remember a few years ago when there were only a few options within our niche for specialist agencies, today the marketplace has become oversaturated. If you’re looking to work with a marketing agency, you have copious options but limited budgets. So making the right choice is essential for success.
Recently, we took the decision to decline to work with a company that had a very large budget, despite all the signs pointing to the fact this was going to be profitable for us! They wanted everything from website design and branding to print and email marketing strategies, they wanted content creation in the form of blogs and video and of course, social media management services. After speaking with the business owner, and putting myself in their shoes, I knew that the best solution for them would be to work with a local agency that had local connections and an understanding of the local area. Was this a naive business decision to say no? Possibly. Green Umbrella is in its 12th year of business, I’ve been here for almost 10 years, and over that time we’ve all learnt where we will and potentially won’t be a good fit for our clients and prospects!
The problem is that for most businesses when it comes to selecting an agency, they don’t have 10+ years of experience in getting that match right!
So what do you look for when recruiting a new agency?
Put your marketing brief together in detail
Before you begin your search for marketing support you need to create a full brief. Be clear on what services you require and why, and make sure you have considered your budget.
- 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 have a working understanding of what this means? The marketing agency may be thinking about off-page and on-page SEO or technical SEO or both! Familiarise yourself with this terminology before conversations start.
- Social media management – what platforms are you interested in having managed for you? What do you want your platforms to look like? What do you want from them specifically?
- PR – do you have goals for winning awards and tenders or require content in trade magazines? Are you looking for placement in local or national press on a regular basis?
- Design – do you already have an established brand? What’s your culture? Do you have vision and mission statements or a company ethos that you can share within the brief?
- Who is your target audience? Has this been defined? If so, make this part of the brief. (FYI – “Anyone” isn’t a proper answer!)
Research the digital marketing agency
Once you have your brief then it is time to think about who you need to talk to!
Here’s a quick google tip for you when it comes to your search if you’re starting with Google. Try keywords such as “marketing agency”, “digital marketing”, “social media management”, “Digital Design and Development Agency” and “Online Marketing Agency” making sure to use speech marks around the phrase and follow this with the county you’re in rather than the town. (If you’re looking for an agency that suits your niche, search for that rather than the location of course!)
After a Google search, why not ask your audience? Put a post on LinkedIn (other social media channels are available) asking your connections for a recommendation. Who would they recommend? This is great as you will see names appearing 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”. You’re 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 a conversation is certainly warranted!
Now you have your list of agencies, it is time to continue with the research.
- Scout their website. Which services are most prominent within the site? This is what they are most confident in implementing – their zone of genius! For example, you will see that we provide websites. However, the social media side of things is at the core of what we do 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”.
- 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?
- It’s time for References! Online reviews are usually very positive, especially if it is on the agency’s website. So now it’s time to pick up the phone and speak to at least two clients. Perhaps someone they started working with a few years ago, and someone they’ve only started working with quite recently. The telephone is the best way to get “real” information as people can be reluctant to put anything negative in writing.
- Social Media profiles – if they are a digital marketing agency they should be practising what they preach. Check out their Facebook page. When was the last time they posted? Are they using video and live streaming on their page? LinkedIn – Are they posting regularly on LinkedIn? Remember, their content is a reflection of the quality of content that they will be managing for you, so this is important.
- 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? A good agency will be leading by example.
Prepare your questions
A good marketing agency will have an experienced salesperson who is focused on selling the benefits of working with their agency. It is important that you do not get sidetracked; have a list of questions to keep you focused on the objective of the meeting. A small list of 4-5 questions will be sufficient. Think of the process in a similar way to hiring someone to join your team. At the end of the day, it is a big investment, 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 that is also managing your biggest competitor!)
- Do they outsource their work? This is not a problem, but it is good for you to know and understand how that works. Many agencies outsource their work to designers, content writers, copywriters, 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?
Meet your marketing team
Ask to meet the 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.
You’ve found an agency that you like, they’ve provided 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 in your marketing package.
- Contract terms – how long are you signing up for and what is the termination period if things are not working out? Do you have a break clause?
- Negotiate – even if you hate negotiating. If you don’t ask, then you don’t get! There may not be movement on fees but you might be able to gain some additional value.
- 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? How and 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, and your passwords to your social accounts. A professional agency will supply you with an NDA to sign and agree or it will be built into their terms and conditions.
Is that all?..
How you go through the process of choosing a digital marketing agency depends on the size and type of your company, the niche you’re active in, your level of competition, what you’re willing to spend on marketing, and what your ultimate goals are.
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 thoroughly researching your options.
What other details would you consider when searching for and hiring a digital agency? What would convince you to choose one agency over others?