Deciding whether you keep the agency you’re currently with or going with a new one is always going to be a tough decision to make, especially if you’ve invested many years working with one that knows your business inside out.
For some in-house marketers, the time to make that decision is now – but where do you start? In my experience, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
Before engaging an agency, it’s important to have considered the following:
- The specific problem you want them to solve e.g. ‘We want to increase our organic search traffic’ or ‘We want to reduce our CPA by X amount’. How you measure the performance of the agency needs to come from a verifiable objective/goal of the marketing activity you’ve chosen to work on. This objective could be the ideas mentioned above, or even any of the following:
- Branding & Awareness
- App Downloads
- Your campaign or project budget
- A list of services your decided agency should be working on
- How your in-house team will work with the agency and how the two teams will coordinate with each other
If you’re clear on all of these above points, then you should be ready to start researching and shortlisting a new agency. But your work doesn’t stop there. Here’s a few things you’ll still need to be thinking about:
Every agency is going to tell you they’re the best at what they do. And why wouldn’t they? But how do you decide which ones are the ‘real deal’? The first thing you need to consider is the types of clients they’ve worked with previously. Ask them for case studies that are most relevant to what you’re trying to achieve, as well as testimonials from other clients they’ve had. Do they have the right qualifications to operate within your business’ niche? Have they been recognized or participate in industry events or have they received any accolades? Do they promote themselves as thought leaders and do they publish insights about the latest trends and learnings from their experiences?
It’s always recommended that if you decide to collaborate with any agency that you commit to a long-term partnership (unless it’s project based of course). It makes no sense to work on a short-term basis when your marketing strategy will most likely be 12 to 18 months. We do our best in the pitching process to do our homework on potential clients to ensure a lasting successful relationship, but nevertheless, it’s always important for you to read the termination clause.
Decide an Agency Type
Agencies come in all shapes, sizes and forms. It’s important that you select one which fits in with your organisation’s goals and specific requirements. They may be very specialized working within a niche space, or they be a very generalized operation with varied capabilities in a ‘full-stack’ fashion. For example, a digital creative agency might focus on web design and development and offer SEM services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re qualified enough to be doing your SEM work. If you have a complicated or extensive paid search campaign in mind, your agency would need to be more experienced in implementing such a strategy and have SEM capability at their core.
This is particularly the case in digital marketing where technologies and trends are changing on a daily basis. So make sure the agency you’re planning on choosing understands and has experience in all the latest.
Process & Procedure
Ask for an overview of your potential agency’s strategic process. This will help you conceptualize how the agency operates and give you the opportunity to ask any questions which will overcome confusion in the transition between old agency and new. Some example process and procedure questions could be; what does the pre-campaign process look like? Or, how is the ongoing relationship managed, such as with tasks, work in progress meetings (WIPs) and reporting?
Communication is the key to minimizing risk and optimizing outcome. Some agencies will use a chain of communication whereby you’ll communicate only with the account manager or director, while others utilize a system in which you communicate directly with the person executing tasks. The communication style will generally be dependent on the size of the agency. The best way to keep channels of communication open no matter the structure is to be transparent – talk about your long-term objectives and give regular feedback.
The whole process of on-boarding a new agency shouldn’t be too different to looking for your next employee to hire. They should be considered as part of your team and not a 3rd party extension. Work out who it is in your team that will be dealing with the agency most and bring them along to pitches. By doing this you’ll guarantee that not only you, but also those working closely with the agency, are comfortable with the decision.
A final thought – I see choosing an agency as a very similar process to getting married. Don’t rush into it, take your time in researching your options and make sure you’re 100% comfortable with your choice before finalizing the decision.
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