When we decided to write this blog post, the easy way to go would have been a simple list of what to ask about ROI, services offered, etc. But for companies working with marketing agencies, most joy, pain, and success stories tend to be big-picture. Understanding the full relationship should be part of the decision-making process. Yes, care about technology and strategy, but care about more than that!
1. Can you help us grow?
Business 101! Is the objective of the new partnership to help you achieve—or surpass—your goals, including company/revenue growth? How will the agency help you accomplish this goal? Do they have experience helping clients advance? If marked growth isn’t the aim of both parties, you might need to revisit the entire partnership.
2. Which marketing services does your company provide?
With so many firms using the title “marketing agency,” this can be vague. Is your agency a social media company? Do they simply build websites? Is it a guy in his garage writing very compelling content? If you need an agency, make sure you’re hiring an agency. Hire a company that understands marketing strategy, content creation, digital marketing, web services, social media management, ad buys, print media, etc. The list should be long—and most agencies today are single-threaded. They might provide industry-leading websites, but who’s producing the content? If they’re creating an email campaign for you, who is augmenting the strategy with a compelling social media campaign? Lots of holes may be found—or avoided—if you simply ask for a list of services.
3. Who are some of your other clients and industries?
To quote a certain political figure, this is “HUGE!” Most clients fail in this area—not because they don’t ask, but because they ask the wrong question. It’s easy to get hung up on firms that serve your competitors and market to your vertical channel. But by bringing in an agency that has worked across multiple industries, you get a breadth of knowledge, more creative strategies, and outside-the-box thinking. I have always prided myself at being able to look across the landscape and bring innovative ideas to my clients who have worked for verticals A, B, and C. Most agencies can’t do this and end up churning out the same material with the same messages for the same marketplaces. Ugh!
4. How good is your freelance network?
Here is a dirty little secret most agencies won’t discuss: Unless the firm is huge and expensive, with more than 40 employees, they likely outsource some of their work. This is critical to your success. Who are they hiring for this freelance work? What is the freelancers’ experience level? Are they all based in the same country as the agency? Who has access to your content, data, and systems? You’ll likely hire the agency and some extension of the agency, so make sure you vet them well.
5. What is your onboarding process and is it efficient?
Ah, another area where most agencies drop the ball. Creatives tend not to be process-followers. And without a good process, onboarding can be painful, bumpy, and set a negative tone for the entire relationship. Step-by-step, easily implemented onboarding processes will go a long way to getting your marketing programs off the ground and will set the tone for the relationship. If it’s not clearly defined, tread cautiously. How long will it take them to implement on your behalf? When will you get an invoice? A performance report? Do you have contracts signed and in place before the work starts? Who are your customer service, billing, and operational points of contact?
6. How will you measure success and ROI from the marketing spend?
Some people don’t believe that there is a measurable ROI for every marketing service. WRONG! Everything can be measured, and everything can be tied back to ROI. Your agency should have good metrics in place that let you know you’re getting a strong return for your investment. But setting goals up front is imperative. Are you looking for quality leads? Brand awareness? Launching a new product into an established marketplace? Trying to get purchased by a VC? If you haven’t set expectations from the start, the agency cannot provide a measurable ROI—or at least one you’ll be happy with.
Always set goals that can be measured. Come to an agreement. Be reasonable and open-minded. Your partner should be able to share statistics and industry averages for the activities they’re implementing. If not, run away fast!
7. How often will you meet with me?
Do you get radio silence once the work begins, or are you slammed with meeting requests? Regular touchpoint meetings are important; strategy sessions are critical! Does the agency want weekly conference calls, monthly Skypes, or quarterly face-to-face meetings? Is there a ramp period requiring more initial meetings? We take the time to define this for all of our clients to make sure no one is left wondering. Our clients are always informed of our focus and direction.
8. What is your communication style?
Communication styles vary person to person and company to company. Some love email, while others prefer messaging software or communication portals. A few even pick up the phone and call. Set some ground rules for communication. Do you appreciate weekend emails with reports, status updates, etc.? If there is a question, would you rather be called or emailed? If they use a project management portal (we are big fans of Basecamp!), is it easy to use? If you call the office, can you reach someone right away? Likewise, how soon will you receive a response: within hours or days? Some creatives are not process-followers and are more laid back. They may see your email, work on the issue, but neglect to update you in the process. Communication style should be your choice—if it is not your cup of tea, maybe find a different partner.
9. Who provides the ideas?
The rubber is hitting the road with this one. Most of us think we know marketing and how to be creative. But isn’t that why you’re hiring the agency? If not, and you simply want them to implement your own ideas, be clear about that. Creatives take pride in coming up with novel ideas. They love to solve problems with their inventive approaches. Make sure you have a good understanding of your role versus their role.
Now, this can vary over time. But if you want your marketing partner to be a creative catalyst for change, ask where they get their new ideas. How do they process information, trends, marketing movers, etc.? The best ideas are often collaborations—with internal staff or you in the mix. Your personality and expertise are two of your business’ biggest assets. Consider how to integrate these qualities into your brand messaging and your partner’s way of creating strategies, messaging, look and feel, etc.
While these questions may seem untraditional to some of you, we believe they are the most important things to know before moving into a marketing partnership. If you establish a good foundation with this information, you’ll be much happier long-term, the agency will be more successful, and you’ll likely want to retain them for years to come.