Unless you've been lucky enough to escape downsizing, marketing departments often need to contract with outside agencies for tasks that your team cannot handle on its own. Consider these seven points before starting the search.
1. Marketing Experience.
An outside agency can add creativity and expertise to the in-house team. It also lends a third-party perspective that sometimes leverages more weight with the C-suite. However, ensure that the agency has the experience and proven results to back up dazzling visuals and lofty recommendations.
2. Creative Capabilities.
Creative talent should be evident from the onset, starting with the agency's website and digital presence. It can also reveal their intangible personality. The best way to discover what they can do is by getting to know them. Conduct initial research and select two or three agencies that interest you. Talk with them; invite them to visit; figure out if there's chemistry.
Instead of the requisite "request for proposal," issue a "request for partnership." While many agencies won't do spec creative, assign a project, even at a nominal fee, to a couple at the top of your list. This can provide a preview of their creativity. You want to see innovation and vision. Look for "wow" moments.
3. Mutually Beneficial Partnership.
A successful relationship between client and agency is a 50-50 partnership. Producing the desired marketing results requires collaboration, transparency, mutual respect, and realistic expectations on each side's part.
One marketing director recently shared his thoughts about forging a client-agency partnership, explaining that the client needs to have a level of trust and confidence in the agency. For their part, the agency must have the skills and expertise to prove its worth to the client.
4. Financial Discussion.
The quickest way for relationships to break down is over money. During the review process, ask about billing, fees, retainers, up charges, and rate sheets. Open and transparent discussions at the beginning can prevent misunderstandings later.
Before work starts on your account, define the process for authorizations, approvals, and change orders so both sides share the same expectations. Failure to have these discussions can lead to loss of trust later.
5. Measurable Goals.
When reviewing an agency's portfolio, ask about results and case studies that include quantified measures of success. Just as with talks about money, work openly with the agency to establish performance criteria at the onset.
Beware of results that seem too good to be true—those probably can't be proven. In the age of digital marketing, analytics are readily accessible to both client and agency to help direct the marketing spend and move the needle.
6. Relationships and Responsiveness.
Like all interpersonal relationships, people usually work best with people they like. We measure our own client relationships not just by the longevity of the account but those that produced lasting friendships. Chemistry is the number factor in a successful agency-client relationship.
Ask about the team, along with bios, likely to be assigned to your account. You want experienced marketing professionals with proven credentials and core values that align with your own.
Talk to some of their current clients to discover how they interact with the agency and their responsiveness.
Establishing a successful relationship with your account services team depends, in part, on flexibility, responsiveness, and willingness to listen. With the right chemistry, they can become an extension of your marketing team.
7. Market Trends and Market Knowledge.
Evaluation of marketing agencies includes their research capabilities, knowledge of trends within the marketing industry, and familiarity with current media options and effectiveness.
Research and data should drive the development of any campaign. Review qualitative and quantitative research processes. With the myriad changes in the marketplace, you want an agency with strong digital capabilities to guide your marketing strategy.
Even if an agency hasn't worked with other local clients, their ability to learn the market and assimilate into the community can help increase your brand awareness.
Checking off these points makes the process of selecting a marketing agency easier.