Whether you’re running a small or large business, for-profit or nonprofit, chances are you will need to hire a marketing agency at some point in your career. Perhaps you’ll need help launching a new product or special event, building a new website, rebranding, or managing other large projects. Or maybe you need help with day-to-day marketing, advertising, public relations, or social media.
If you’ve never shopped around for a marketing agency before, you might not know where to start. But you do know this:
- You want an agency that will understand your organization and work in partnership with your in-house team to achieve your goals.
- The agency will need an amazing portfolio and experience, but they also need to fit your budget.
- You need to do your due diligence to ensure the agency you choose is a good match, but you’re not sure what information you’ll need or what questions to ask.
First, start by searching Google, asking colleagues for recommendations, and reading online reviews. As you’re researching and setting up initial consultations, ask the agency reps the following questions:
Do They Offer the Services You Need?
Not all marketing agencies are created equal, and not all offer the same services. Before you request a meeting, make sure you’ve looked over their list of services on their website. Some agencies may only handle digital marketing or website design. Others may offer a little of everything, including advertising and PR.
If they don’t offer a specific service you want, but meet your needs in every other way, ask if they would they be willing and able to outsource the missing service to give you the full package.
Do They Have Expertise, Experience, and a Great Reputation?
Look at their client list. Do they have expertise with other companies in your industry? If not, are there similar types of industries in their client list? Do they seem willing to work with different types of clients?
What about their staff? Do they have seasoned designers and marketers on their team who can handle your projects? Read their bios to see if their education and work experience are compatible with your needs.
Then read over the agency’s testimonials and online reviews. What are people saying about them? If you’re not finding at least some rave reviews, you may want to steer clear.
Do They Have an Impressive Portfolio of Work and Case Studies?
Any marketing agency worth its salt will be happy to share its body of work. We’re all aiming for bragging rights and love to show off our amazing clients and cool projects we’ve completed.
Visit their website and carefully look over their portfolio. Do you like what you’re seeing—their style, aesthetics, and vision? Can you imagine this agency doing similar work for your organization?
Then read over their case studies. Were their projects successful, and did they deliver results? Do the results seem realistic or too good to be true? Beware of agencies that overpromise.
Is the Work Done In-House or Outsourced?
In general, you’ll pay less when an agency’s in-house staff completes the work. If they must use a freelancer, they’ll charge you the freelancer’s rate plus some. It’s generally more cost-effective to use an agency that can handle your projects in house.
That said, there are times that it is appropriate for a marketing agency to outsource projects, especially when it involves a specialized skill. Perhaps you need staff headshots for your new website. An agency would likely outsource a job like that to a professional photographer.
Is Their Pricing Fair and in Your Budget?
The most expensive agency isn’t necessarily the best. Likewise, the least expensive may not give you the results you’re looking for. If you’re requesting bids from multiple agencies, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
You’ll also need to consider whether an hourly rate, project-based rate, or a monthly retainer would better suit your needs. If you need help with a one-time project, you’ll likely want to pay hourly or a lump project sum. If you need ongoing marketing support over the course of several months or years, you’ll receive a better rate with a retainer.
Next, make sure you’re not locked into a year-long contract. If you’re not happy with the relationship, you’ll want to have the flexibility to exit before the year is up. If there’s not an escape clause in your contract, watch out.
Will They Work Well with Your Team?
Invite your team members who will be working directly with the agency to sit in on the initial consultation. They know the project specifics and can ask the right questions to gauge the agency’s qualifications and experience. Even if it’s over Zoom, they’ll get a sense of the interpersonal relationships involved and can help you assess if your teams will be compatible.
Ask yourself if the agency team seems like a good fit: Are they knowledgeable, experienced, and do they seem interested in building a long-term partnership with you.
Do They Communicate Well?
Do agency representatives respond to your inquiries in a timely manner? If they’re not responding within 24 hours, you may want to look elsewhere.
Do they make you wait weeks to schedule an initial consultation? If they want your business, they need to find a time to meet that works with both your schedules.
In your consultation, ask the agency about their communication process. How often do they meet with clients? Do they send periodic status updates? What is their preferred method of communication, and does it sync with yours? Are they meeting over Zoom or in person?
If you’ve done your research and asked the questions above, you should have enough information to make an informed decision. If you’re trying to decide between two equally qualified agencies, it’s best to go with your gut.
- Which firm feels like the best match?
- With which could you envision your organization forming an ongoing partnership?
- Which feels like an extension of your own marketing department?
Once you find the right agency, cultivate your relationship by being open and honest with them, communicating your needs in a timely manner, and being engaged in the process.