Marketing is a necessity for business growth, like office supplies and accounting. From the simplest business cards to the most complex experiential campaign, marketing is how customers find and experience your business. It takes an investment and a person (or people) dedicated to do it right. So the first step in hiring a marketing agency is making the commitment to dedicate resources to this valuable piece of your business’s future.
This list can help you understand how to choose and manage a marketing agency, and can set you up for a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Hire a dedicated marketing coordinator (or manager, director, VP, CMO, etc.). If you have the resources to build a department, great! Understand that splitting specialties between different marketing personnel allows them to operate more efficiently and to dive deeper into their channels of expertise. Digital vs. traditional, internal vs. external messaging, earned media (PR) vs. purchased (advertising), etc.
- Allow your marketing leader to vet agencies. Decide whether this agency should be local, or if that matters. Are you in a field of business, like grocery stores, where specialized agencies exist? Some agencies focus on industry segments, some on healthcare, and many on a variety of businesses. LMG, for example, doesn't specialize in a particular segment, but we've developed deep expertise in four broad areas: Technology, Industry, Financial Services and Human Services.
- Set up in-person introductions with a shortlist of potential agencies. Like a job interview, this will be a chance for you to ask questions of each other, talk about your needs and the agency’s capabilities, and decide if the relationship would be a good fit. You’ll want to know if the agency has experience in your field, but they aren’t currently working with your direct competitors. If they don’t have direct experience, do they have something relevant that will translate to your industry?
- Get an idea of whom you’ll be working with directly. Even if you’re hiring a marketing agency, you will still have to be involved in the work. Think of this group as an extension of your staff, not an “Easy Button” that will make all of your marketing magically appear. Your account representative will need to communicate with you often to tap into your understanding of the business, your market and your goals. Make sure you don’t mind being on the phone or at lunch with each other often!
- If you think you need help choosing between multiple agencies, talk about a trial project. This won’t likely be free, so negotiate a project and cost that will test the agency’s capabilities. You can keep it simple, such as getting updated business cards or brochures. Save the new website launch and total rebrand for later. Since the relationship is still very new, your marketing leader will likely need to stay very involved with the competing agencies. You’ll get a real sense of what it’s like working with them. Do they keep deadlines? Is the creative work good? Do they understand what you need and give you relevant advice?
- Once you choose your agency, negotiate your terms. Some agencies want to be your Agency of Record, which is a contractual agreement that keeps you from hiring outside vendors and assistance without the agency’s involvement. Some use a retainer, which offers marketing work for a set fee. LMG works on a project basis with most of our clients, meaning that if you’re not satisfied with our work, you aren’t bound to us. We find that it’s motivation to continue providing stellar work. The vast majority of our clients are long-lasting relationships, so we take that as a sign that we’re on the right track!
- Continue to operate as though your agency is an extension of your marketing team. Like any good leader, you should give clear direction and set your expectations, allow your agency to provide their expertise, and give consistent feedback. Because the agency isn’t under your roof, you’ll need to respect that they’ll have other commitments from time to time. But don’t let them leave you on the back burner to chase down bigger fish. You should feel respected and important to your agency, but know that they aren’t likely available 24-7 to address your every whim.
- If you have concerns about the relationship, voice them early. If you need more frequent communication and updates, just ask. If you wonder whether another account or design person in the agency may be a better personal fit, you can request it. But if you simply can’t get what you need, it may be time to discuss whether the agency is working for you. Be open and honest—it’s business. If you want to review your relationship and start the search again to find a better option, be professional and courteous. Request all of the files, passwords and work that your new agency may need. And don't burn the bridge! There will very likely be a time when you need to go back to your former agency to request something.
Most of all, make sure the agency has delicious cookies and coffee available at all meetings. I’m kidding (kind of). Your agency should make you feel welcome in their office, visit you from time to time at your location, send you something around the holidays and generally be pleasant to deal with. But those aren’t the things that will equate to success at year’s end. Simply look at the results. Are you getting positive reactions to the marketing work you do together? Are your sales numbers increasing as expected? If so, the longer you work with an agency, the better they will learn your business—and the better they will be as a resource.