It’s no secret that marketing any kind of business or service can be hard. And for many companies, the solution to this challenge is to outsource their marketing or public relations needs to an agency. However, if your business is not ready to work with an agency, or you choose an agency without doing some really good research first, you could end up wasting a lot of time and money. Before you hire any outside resource to manage your company’s marketing and public relations efforts, you need to determine if your company and management team are ready to truly maximize an agency partnership and what questions to ask to find an agency that will be a good fit for your company. Below are a number of questions you need to ask yourself, your team, and any new agency you're thinking about hiring.
As the saying goes, “Fail to plan; plan to fail.” If you really want to have your new agency relationship benefit your business, it is crucial to have some idea of who your target markets are, what your projected sales will be, what your products/services are, what marketing strategies have not worked in the past and who your biggest competitors are. If you don’t have this information, consider enlisting the help of a marketing consultant or agency to help you with some strategic planning BEFORE you start spending money on marketing tactics.
As a general rule of thumb, companies should spend around 10–15 % of their total operating budget to maintain their current position within the marketplace. Companies looking to grow or gain greater market share should budget a higher percentage—usually around 15–25% of their total operating budget. There are also different segments within your marketing budget you should plan for. More information on how to plan your marketing budget can be found here.
In business and in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Be certain that your product/service is ready to be distributed to the masses BEFORE you start executing a marketing plan. Nothing is worse than driving traffic to your business and failing your customers when it comes to customer service or fulfillment of the product you are trying to sell.
The “set it and forget it” mentality does not work for agencies. While we know marketing, we don’t know every detail of your business. Make sure you have several hours per week to dedicate to brainstorming, reviewing strategies and creative materials, refining KPIs (key performance indicators), looking at metrics reports and interacting with media if you want to maximize your investment.
Do you want to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal? Or maybe you’re expecting to quadruple your sales within two months. Having lofty goals is great, but a good marketing program takes time and dedication to implement. Discuss your goals and expectations with your agency of record (AOR) and determine upfront what metrics are important so that you can all be on the same page when measuring success.
As a business owner, you’ve probably gotten where you are by doing things your way. But when you hire an outside resource to help take your business to new heights, you have to be willing to take others’ advice into consideration. If you plan on enlisting the help of a marketing and PR firm, be sure you’re ready to take their advice in order to see a return on your investment.
Any marketer worth their salt is going to think outside the box and present ideas to you that may seem unconventional. Granted, you don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the reputation of your brand, but then again, some of the greatest marketing campaigns ever created were a bit controversial. Don’t be afraid to try something different or implement a tactic that you may not have considered in the past.
Hiring an outside agency can often be looked upon as a threat to internal employees—especially if you have internal marketing resources. Be clear with both your agency and your staff about what the expectations and responsibilities are for all involved in your marketing efforts. Consider assigning responsibilities in writing to all marketing team members, which will help prevent the duplication of efforts and bruised egos.
Once you’ve determined that you are ready to move forward with hiring an agency, finding the right fit can be a challenge. As of December 2018, it is estimated that there are more 120,000 marketing/PR firms in the U.S. That’s a whole lot of resources to choose from! In order to find an agency that will be a great fit for your organization, always ask the following questions:
Supposed “marketing agencies” are popping up at a rapid pace thanks to marketing tools such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social. Just about anyone with a computer can claim to be a marketing expert. If you want to keep your marketing dollars safe, seek out an agency that has been in business for a number of years, has great online reviews and can provide solid references and links to their past work.
Hiring an agency that has a ton of experience related to your industry is important, but it’s not always the most important factor. Interview agencies that understand your industry well, but also have the creativity and bandwidth to drive results without breaking the bank. Keep in mind that if you hire an agency that has a number of your competitors on their roster, your business may fall to the end of the priority list based on how much you’re spending each month in agency fees (i.e., retainer). Look for an agency that has a good business sense, knows marketing well and will help you meet your goals vs. brag about their portfolio.
Success comes in many forms, and it’s important that you, and your agency of record, have a clear understanding of what success looks like in your eye. Remember: there are many forms of marketing ROI (awareness, engagement, leads, media hits, etc.), and if all you care about are sales, you need to make that clear from the beginning. Work hard to establish consistent KPIs with your agency and request monthly reporting based off those KPIs. **Be wary of agencies that have their own metrics platforms and do not allow you access to standard metrics platforms, such as Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics and analytics that come directly from the email marketing platform that you are using. Proprietary metrics platforms can be a great way to consolidate reports, but your AOR should also be providing you metrics reporting from all of the above-mentioned platforms if you want them. As a best practice, it makes sense to compare all platforms if you really want to get a 360-degree view of how your marketing campaigns are performing.
Any good agency will have a dedicated process for keeping their clients in the loop and communicating with them on account status. However, you should get clarity on this process before signing a retainer or project agreement. Details on how often you can expect to hear from your account team, how they will be communicating with you (phone, email, text) and what types of information you can expect when they do communicate, should be clearly noted. Make sure that this process is outlined in your retainer agreement. That way you know what to expect and can hold your new marketing partners accountable. Be wary of any agency that does not reach out to you consistently to discuss new ideas, tactics and results.
When sourcing potential agency partners, it is critical to get an idea of what their current and past clients think about working with them. Sites such as Google, Facebook and Yelp will give you an idea of the agency’s reputation, but don’t only rely on online reviews. Ask for several references and call them before signing on the dotted line. It may also be helpful to check out employee review sites like Glassdoor—which will give you some insights on what past and current employees think of working there. Bad employee reviews are usually an indicator of poor management and lack of structure and proven processes, which could negatively affect YOUR business.
Unfortunately, some agencies are infamous for pulling the bait and switch when it comes to selling their services and managing the account. Oftentimes, a senior member of the team will work hard to WOW you during the sales process but disappear after the ink is dry. If you’re expecting senior-level team members to be working on your account, make that known upfront and get it guaranteed in writing.
All and all, hiring a marketing or PR firm to take your company to the next level can be a sound business move. However, if you want to maximize your agency relationship and not burn through your marketing budget, it’s imperative to do some due diligence before making this type of commitment.