So, you’re either unhappy with your current agency, struggling to drive performance improvements in-house (maybe simply through lack of expertise or resource), doing nothing at present, or simply a start-up coming into the market.
Running a pitch process and selecting a new digital marketing agency is a key decision in your future success (and a time-intensive one!), so without further ado, here are some tips and questions to ask to make sure you get it right.
Know what your marketing needs are and compare apples with apples. Know what you’re looking to achieve, what success looks like to you, what’s in and out of scope and what budget you have to achieve those goals. Be selective and send this brief to a select few agencies to pitch after some due diligence as below (typically 3-5 is a good range to make sure the process is manageable).
Ask the agencies for feedback as any agency worth their salt will always challenge the brief and ask challenging questions. At the end of the day, they are the ones expected to deliver, and they’ll need to invest a lot of agency time in pitching, so they’ll want to make sure the project is right for them too.
Having a clear brief is one thing, but make sure your KPI’s are really measurable. For example, don’t just say ‘we’re looking to increase traffic and sales’, but maybe be more specific and say ‘we have a goal of increasing traffic by X% and we’d like to increase sales to a target of X over the next 12 months. Our average customer is worth X per year to us and we have a profit margin of X’. This kind of information helps the agency to validate if your objectives are realistic.
It’s worth also bearing in mind how commercially focused the agency are in general. For example, as part of the roadmap for a start-up, they need to drive awareness, visibility and traffic, but a more established brand may have more to gain in the initial months from conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and improving the sites ability to convert. All this leads to the best possible increases in sales, revenue and profit.
No one agency can be everything to everyone. Find a specialist agency that live and breath the area of expertise you’re looking for. It’s a fast-paced industry and there are developments every day, so making sure you work with specialists means they’ll be at the cutting-edge as its what they do all day, every day. Some full-service agencies may specialise in web design and development for example and have an SEO specialist sat in the corner, but its quite simply not the same as working with a team of experts that get the best training that can work together with many different skillsets across SEO, content, PR and paid media.
How long have they been in business? Who do they work with? What sort of case studies do they have? Can I get a referral or testimonial? All important questions to ask. Also, do they practice what they preach? For example, if you’re looking for an agency for content marketing, do they churn out a wealth of amazing content themselves? Do you’re researching to make sure you’re in good hands?
As basic as it sounds, good communication is everything. Do they come back to you quickly and are they always contactable? If you set them a task do they respond fast? You need an agency that are well resourced and fired up to work with you.
Also, what metrics will they report on and how often? You need to ensure that from a project management and reporting standpoint, there is great collaboration between teams and all your KPI’s are tracked, monitored, measured and reported upon effectively.
You don’t want to be a large client that overstretch a tiny agencies resource, and equally, you don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond, you need to find the sweet spot. Make sure the agency have the resource and structure to provide the continuity, backup, redundancies and failsafe’s on your account. For example, layers of Account Management to retain any key information on the project, even if the team changes slightly over the years.
Also, do they have processes in place to ensure continuity and work quality in every eventuality? Are the team integrated? For example, our owned (SEO & content), earned (digital PR) and paid media teams will all work in collaboration rather than silos to devise an integrated strategy for our clients.
First and foremost, it’s all about the people working on your account and ensuring they are at the top of their game in that field. You need to feel the chemistry and know you’re in a safe pair of hands. These are people you’re going to be working within collaboration for a long time, so choose wisely! Think, can I work with these people and do we get along well? You don’t want any personality clashes and you want to ensure everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.
People are an agencies biggest overhead and biggest asset. For any agency, finding the right people and retaining them is extremely difficult, so find an agency that have longevity in the field and have a happy, healthy, thriving team, doing fantastic award-winning work.
You’re selecting an agency for their expertise and their people. You certainly want transparency and honesty if they are going to be outsourcing all or some of the work. A good specialist digital agency will have the skills and people to deliver a successful project in-house and you’ll always have access to speak to all of the people working directly on your campaign.
How do the agency stay up to date with any industry changes? How invested are the agency in their people? What training do they do and what conferences do they attend or speak at? Continuous professional development should be a key focus for the agencies staff to upskill their team and to instil a culture of continual development. The benefit for you is a highly skilled team at a fraction of the cost of what it would cost you in-house.
What’s the onboarding process and what does it look like working with the agency day-to-day? Who will be your main points of contact and what platforms or project management software do they use? Do you get to approve and sign off on all roadmaps and strategy plans before they go live and any work is completed? Also, what frequency are calls, reporting, review meetings? Also, make sure you have full transparency of any work completed and that the agencies processes and systems allow for this.
Make sure that any work completed for you is yours and you have the IP. Also, make sure that from a paid media perspective you have full account ownership of any platforms like Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising and Facebook. You must retain the billing relationship and ensure that you own the account, as some agencies will create your campaigns in their account, and you end up losing everything if you leave them. This isn’t the way its designed to work and any good agency will always link any paid media accounts to their manager accounts and ensure you retain ownership.
No agency will be working on your account every day throughout a month. It’s important to be realistic and also to compare equally. Essentially, you’re buying time from the agency to deliver fantastic results, and it’s important for both parties that there is enough time available to deliver a successful project. The best agencies will never compete on cost, they compete on service.
Has the agency done it before? Do they have case studies to show they know their onions and its not their first rodeo?
This is a tough one and it’s worth weighing up the fact that some clients like to know an agency have worked with a direct competitor. Others prefer to know that the agency isn’t working with any of the direct competition but have proven digital marketing credentials with other like clients in a similar space.
You know what they say… “two is a conflict, three is a specialism”. It certainly shouldn’t be a deal-breaker if an agency doesn’t have direct experience in your industry sector. You’re not hiring them because they’re experts in your field, you’re hiring them because of their SEO, content, PR and paid media capability and expertise.
Are the agency Google Ads Premier Partners with an agency support team and early access to whitelists and BETAs if you’re seeking a PPC agency? Or do they have any examples of SEO work recognised at the highest possible level at top industry awards if you’re after a new SEO partner? Make sure the agency can demonstrate their credentials do deliver the results you want.
Proprietary in-house tools are sometimes used as a sales tactic by some agencies, but it’s never their main area of business, doesn’t receive anywhere near enough investment, and there is no one tool that does every task well. Select an agency that invests in every best of breed tool available for every specific task, so you get the benefit of access to all the best tools at a fraction of the cost. This ensures their team have access to the best industry tools available and can do their best work for you.
We hope that these tips and questions will help you streamline the agency selection process, hire the right digital marketing agency and see some amazing results.
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