Originally appeared on Forbes Agency Council, Nov 27, 2019
I speak with startups and small to midsize company leaders every day, many of whom have "some marketing experience" by nature of being entrepreneurs. I find I’m answering the same questions for companies that are thinking about hiring an agency and figured I’d put my best tips here for maximum value. These processes for new clients have helped us improve satisfaction and retention (including for our own team members).
If you’re a Fortune 500 marketing director with familiarity using top-tier creative advertising agencies, this probably isn’t for you. These tips are for those of you who are looking for a hybrid 360° agency that can take you from strategy through campaign conclusion.
To begin, it is important to understand the prospective agency's culture. What standards do they hold themselves to? Will that be a fit with your company culture and standards? For example, our culture has arrived at three core values, some of which surprised me. We make it a point to: "Be easy to work with," "Communicate early" and "Answer with algorithms." We’ve found this gives our clients the experience they’d like to have.
We also advise people to think of their new agency as an extension of their existing team. Many startups have a skeleton crew supporting the brand, so augmenting with an outsourced agency can be just the gap-filler they need. The following questions and tips can help you get oriented with this new extension of your team:
Which departments/services will you be engaging with?
With us, it can range from strategic planning to brand identity development, and from content marketing and advertising to strategic outreach. Explore the organization of any agency under consideration in advance.
Who is in charge of each department? How do they prefer to communicate? Who else is on the team? Who is responsible for which deliverables?
What’s the team workflow?
How often does the team work together? How often are the members siloed? If your team has counterparts and even team leads, what’s the best configuration of resources to put you ahead?
How frequent is reporting?
We recommend weekly and monthly reporting. We also prefer to have the department heads prepare insights and guidance for inclusion so that reports become extensions of the strategy. There are many ways to address this; we like it to have as much utility as possible. Scheduled meetings should be double at the beginning and end of a campaign. One weekly meeting for the whole team and as-needed one-on-ones or breakouts between weekly meetings should be sufficient during a standard (three to six month) campaign.
What to do if there’s a change in direction?
This is an important tire to kick. Sometimes there is a shift in an industry due to regulations or new technology. Whatever the case, nimble responsiveness is key. Ask about the change-order process to find out how much lead time is involved in making direction shifts.
What triggers the implementation of optimizations?
Is it accumulating an amount of data? Is it a particular duration of time? Is it achieving specific metrics? Is it a combination of factors?
One way we build in a connection with new clients is to introduce each department head individually as we create the marketing strategy plan. Our strategy team typically creates a full plan, outlined here and here over the course of 4-8 weeks. It all starts with research. Then, each department works in conjunction with the strategy team to build out the most robust plan on behalf of the client based on the research. Each week a new department head joins the strategy call with the client and has an hour or so to walk through what’s working, feedback, adjustments, etc.
Ask any agency you’re talking to how they plan to develop a relationship with you and your brand. Make sure their answer makes sense.
We ask questions about a brand’s maturity to help gauge the level of work that will be involved in delivering services to them. Companies that have already developed a brand voice and style guide (or brand identity kit or visual language guide — they have many names) can shave off years of miscommunication and inefficiency in their marketing efforts, so we look for those, although we can work without them (and often do).
Some companies want to hit proof-of-concept first and then do deep branding work when they can afford it from revenue. This makes a lot of sense, and we have a solid record of working with startups that follow this path.
Above all, seek an agency that can outperform industry benchmarks while providing a satisfactory experience. There are so many agencies and only so few days, so a good fit is really important.
I hope I addressed all of your questions. There’s a chance I left out one or two. Thank you for including this article in your research on working with an agency. My hope is that entrepreneurs and agencies can harmonize their efforts and experience stratospheric results while enjoying the accomplishment each day along the way.
My best advice is to hire an agency you’d want to work for. We’ve all heard it: "You’re in business, so you’re in marketing." So, why not shop for a vendor that could easily be your second home?
Here’s a secret:
That’s how we look for clients. Where would we like to work? Who’s changing the world in a way we’d like to make a difference? When we can answer those questions to our own satisfaction, we very often have a good client-agency fit.