Whether you’re in the market for your first internet marketing company, or researching alternative advertising agencies to hire, we encourage you do your due diligence on each agency or firm. One of the most prevalent downfalls of a brand-agency relationship transpires from the lack of congruency between the business objectives, financial requirements and contractual agreements.
The gravity of a misaligned brand-agency partnerships is ultimately reflected in high costs and poor campaign performance, which is why we recommend you conduct thorough research before you even begin submitting a request for proposal (RFP).
STEP 1: Explicitly define your business objectives, marketing goals and expectations
Think of your agency as an extension of your brand, and subsequently treat the acquisition of any new strategic partnership as you would a new hire.
Begin by outlining your overarching business objective, which could be anything from scaling growth, rebranding, product extension or driving awareness to name a few. Consider the time both your brand and the agency are expected to dedicate towards the partnership, the discipline-specific talent available and the financial resources at your disposal.
The advertising industry is saturated with larger agencies that offer full-service capabilities and smaller, boutique agencies that focus on one concentration. Depending on your specialties, you might want to keep search engine optimization (SEO) or web development in-house while outsourcing creative design and content marketing initiatives to your chosen agency.
Below are some capabilities a brand might be seeking from a digital marketing agency:
- Wed development
- Content marketing and creation
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Email/inbound marketing
- Social media marketing
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Online marketing, including pay-per-click (PPC), Google AdWords, etc.
Likewise, establish the business objective your brand wishes to outsource to the selected agency:
- Driving awareness
- Lead Generation
- Scalable Growth
The divided responsibilities should be clearly defined, and project management platforms/services should be implemented for brand-agency collaboration. Consider using project management and communication channels such as Asana, Slack or Google Drive to foster brand/agency interactions. Both your brand and the chosen agency should have a comprehensive understanding of the expected timelines, feedback cycle and overall campaign strategy.
STEP 2: Choosing which kind of agency fits into your business model
Conglomerate traditional advertising agencies who excel in print or commercial may offer a division of online marketing services, but how do you determine if this is the most reliable agency for you? Just because one advertising agency dominates one aspect of advertising, does not secure them as a leader in another segment. Evaluate which advertising agency concentration aligns best with your brand’s needs:
- Creative vs. Industry Niche
A creative agency might excel is design and aesthetics, but an industry niche agency could be a better option if a brand wants to implement a virtual reality or experiential advertising campaign.
- Global vs. Local
Let’s assume your brand is small furniture store localized in one city, and your demographic is a regional consumer restricted to the constraints of this particular location. This furniture store would likely seek out a regional agency who is invested in the local community.
However, if the furniture store was a national chain, then the furniture store could potentially benefit from a global agency that has experience in nationally/globally reaching targeted audiences.
- Large vs. Small
I recently read a recommendation that advised brands to be the highest spending client in a boutique, smaller agency instead of the lowest spending client in a larger agency. Generally, more resources and talent are allocated to the higher spending client, and a smaller agency’s specialized team guarantees your campaign is managed by individuals who excel in a particular skill set.
Further, smaller agencies can actually be more advantageous because there are fewer touchpoints, making execution faster and consistency more fluid. With more intimate partnerships, brands can expect that senior or executive level agency team members are directly contributing to the campaign.
STEP 3: Read, research and repeat
Generally, an agency will highlight their paramount capabilities on their website, and might bury less specialized services. To this point, make sure you are cross referencing an agency’s promoted capabilities with their whitepapers, case studies, client referrals/recommendations, LinkedIn groups, Twitter reviews or agency trade associations and intermediaries.
Scour an agency’s website for social credibility and industry press, including press releases, thought leadership (blogs) and industry recognition (awards, Google Partner status or certifications). At this stage in the agency search, call the agency or express interest in their services.
Once you’ve narrowed your search to a shortlist, spoken with a business development representative from each agency, and researched pricing, send a request for proposal (RFP). An agency most likely wants your business just as much as you need theirs, so leverage this in-between phase by asking for a free audit report of broad strategy to assess their competence.
If you do move forward with an advertising agency, it’s important that your brand’s team dynamic is compatible with the agency’s, which requires the comprehension of both teams’:
- Business model
- Definition of success
- Expectations for reporting and deliverables
- And allocation of budget and resources
Use this summarized list of recommendations when researching for your next internet marketing company or agency to ensure you’re working with a reliable, efficient and successful marketing partner!