It's tough choosing an agency to help you with your marketing. Most people approach it 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. That approach leads to being stuck with a house that's rife with problems and an agency that feels like a boat anchor.
The following guide will make it easier to find the right agency for you.
Before you open your browser to look at portfolios, get a piece of paper and write down two things:
1. Why you need an agency
2. What you expect them to do for you
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, you are new to marketing and need a little handholding 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 odd brochure and 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? Then maybe you should be looking at design firms. Do you have a $4 million advertising budget? Then you need to talk to traditional ad agencies with media buying departments.
Where My Money At!? aka ROI
The question of return on investment is like kryptonite to a lot of creative agencies. Make sure to ask each one how you will realize an ROI with them. If they can’t answer, don’t hire them. And by answer, I mean give you a solid, measurable answer, not some fancy dancing. Lots of folks will jump into tech speak at this point and try to explain to you that ROI is the wrong metric, etc. That's BS.
Your company is a business. Why should it spend a dime if it can’t get a return on it? And, as a marketer, why would you want to be viewed internally as overhead? All activities that do not generate income are overhead—the cost of doing business. In this economy, overheads get cut cut cut. Don’t let an agency put your head on the chopping block. Find one that understands how they can give you an ROI.
Peek Under the Hood
Ask agencies about their process. What do they do to get to the end product? Your not looking for a 32-step process documented in a binder. You're trying to get at 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. You are in business and you hire vendors to help you solve problems and drive your company to strength. Relying on the creative muse to do that for your marketing is reckless.
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. Ask how the results of that process delivered a return on that client’s investment. Listen for real returns.
Winning Battles vs. Winning Wars
Do you need to win battles or wars? Maybe you have your strategy all figured out. Then it’s simple, just hire the tactical experts necessary to deliver on it. But, maybe you want help on strategy. Well, then you need a firm that can support you on that. There’s no correct answer here, just make sure your agency fits your needs.
A Final Word: Beware of Sheep in Wolves Clothing
The agency space 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 buy and PR firms doing print media. This is because there are so many firms out there and they all are looking for ways to keep revenues flowing. So, big agencies design pamphlets and freelance web programmers offer logo design.
Go back to your piece of paper. The two answers you wrote are important. Why do I need help and what do I need my agency to do? Don’t talk to a web development company if your needs are centered around supporting your company’s sales efforts. Sure, their account rep might be lovely, but beauty is only skin deep. You need to get a job done. Hire a firm that is made to deliver.
NOTE: This post was originally published on www.mikegastin.com