By Mike Gastin, president of Essention Group, LTD
As a business owner, it can be tough choosing a marketing agency to help you with your business’s initiatives. Most entrepreneurs approach finding an agency like buying a house. They go online, look at pictures, find a few that look really nice, take a tour and then choose the one that feels right. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this approach often finds people stuck with a house rife with problems and businesses stuck with an agency that feels like a boat anchor. Here are a few tips I share with my EO peers when it comes to selecting a marketing agency that’s right for them.
Before you open your Web browser to look at agency portfolios, get a piece of paper and write down the answers to these two questions:
- Why do I need a marketing agency?
- What do I expect them to do for me?
Knowing the answers to these two questions will save you a lot of time. With defined expectations, you’ll be able to focus your time on candidates that can meet your needs. The “why” helps you interview and subsequently measure agencies. If you know that you need an agency because your workload is too much, or you have a quota of qualified sales leads you are responsible for, you can assess agencies based on those issues.
The “what” helps you find the right kind of agency. Do you just need some help in creating the occasional brochure or Web banner? Then you should be looking at freelancers. Do you need to do a complete overhaul of your messaging and apply it to a new Web design? You should consider design firms. Do you have a US$4 million advertising budget? Then you need to talk to traditional ad agencies with media buying departments. Picking just any marketing agency won’t do you any good if it’s not one that’s best suited to meet your specific business needs.
Peek Under the Hood
Ask agencies about their processes. What do they do to get to the end product? You’re not looking for a 32-step process documented in a binder; you’re trying to discover the agency’s level of expertise. If an agency responds that creativity can’t be bound to a process, then thank them for their time and move on. Once an agency has told you how they do what they do, ask them to show you examples of work that resulted from that process. Also, ask how the results of that process delivered a return on that client’s investment. Listen for real returns.
Beware of Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing
The agency industry is littered with all kinds of companies delivering all kinds of services, and there’s a metric ton of overlap— Web development companies doing print design, ad agencies doing publishing, freelance graphic designers doing media buys, PR firms doing print media, etc. Go back to your piece of paper. The two answers you wrote are important, and they should help guide you throughout the selection process. For example, you don’t want to talk to a Web development company if your needs are centered around supporting your company’s sales efforts. Stay true to your needs, do your research and then hire a firm that is proven to deliver.