How to choose the best marketing agency?

General

So, you’ve fallen out of love with your agency or moved to a new company and don’t feel their incumbent agency is up to scratch. Or maybe you’ve been handling your marketing in-house for years but now need a bit of a helping hand. How do you go about the tricky process of finding a new agency that’s right for you? Finding the right agency partner is a bit like dating – get it wrong and you can go through a painful and expensive breakup. So, doing a bit of homework upfront can save a lot of heartache down the way. Get it right, and you’ll be at the start of a beautiful and strong relationship that will stand the test of time and help grow your business for many years to come.

Before starting your search, you need to think about exactly what you are looking for in a new agency, and begin creating a list of your requirements. Some of the points to consider are:

Specialist vs integrated agency? There are two main types of agencies – specialists who supply a particular service e.g. SEO, PPC, social media, branding or website build and integrated agencies who have many different marketing disciplines under one roof. The right type for you will very much depend on the skills and expertise of your current in-house team. For smaller marketing teams or owner managed businesses, an integrated agency is usually better as they can make sure all aspects of your marketing work together.

In-house vs agency team? An agency partner should dovetail with your in-house skills and be flexible enough to help out where its needed most. Beware of agencies who aren’t open to discussions about how they can help you to be self-sufficient in day to day tasks. A good agency will be more than happy to supply the creative and technical input so that you can amend presentations yourself or update your website via a user friendly CMS.

Strategic vs tactical? If you have already got your marketing plan in place, you may just need an agency who can deliver the tactics and do the leg work. Conversely, you may have the resources to complete routine tasks, but need some support in setting out your marketing strategy and working out the best course of action. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses can help you to ask the right questions in your search for an agency partner.

Sector specialist vs generalist? It is tempting to seek out agencies that have experience in your industry sector, but this isn’t usually necessary. Agencies are skilled at building up knowledge of a particular sector very quickly and they will be able to bring fresh and relevant ideas to the table if they have worked across a broad spectrum of industries. The exception is if you who work in a highly technical industry such as pharmaceuticals or medical communications, as in this case it is usually beneficial to pick an agency who specialises in your field.

Next step – put together a shortlist

Once you have your checklist, you can start compiling a list of potential agencies. Search online for testimonials, ask for referrals, think of agencies you have worked with in the past, and from this you should be able to compile a list of agencies who match your requirements on paper.

Check their credentials – Many agencies will have portfolios on their website to showcase work they are especially proud of. Does their range of services reflect your requirements? If you are in need of website design, but all of their work surrounds performance marketing – they may not be a good fit. Don’t hesitate to visit websites they have designed, social media platforms they have handled etc, to see if you like their work. Also, if you have time there is no substitute for visiting the agency in person.

Look at their charging structure – It is important to consider your budget and ask for an agency’s ratecard or get them to quote for a project or retainer. Unless they are buying in products or services on your behalf, agency charging structures are based on how much time their in-house team will spend on your account. Most agencies will charge on an hourly or daily rates but there are considerable regional variations so it pays to shop around. It may be cheaper, for example, to seek out a Manchester agency, rather than working with one in the centre of London – and these days distance is no object.

So you have your favourite – what next?

One of the best ways to see if the agency is a good fit is to give them a small paid project to undertake for you or a 3-month trial. You can then assess at first hand how they conduct themselves and if you feel they are right for you. At the end of the day, and going back to the dating analogy for a moment, if they don’t treat you well during the honeymoon period – the relationship isn’t going to stand the test of time!