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11 Tips for Selecting the Right Marketing Agency

By April 24, 2020April 24th, 2023No Comments

A few considerations to help your company find the right marketing agency match.

Does this sound familiar?

  • You’ve decided you need the help of a marketing firm.
  • You spend countless hours writing RFPs, reading proposals, meeting with agencies, and hearing pitches to find the “perfect” marketing agency.
  • A few months into the engagement, you realize the agency is not living up to your expectations and you cancel the contract.

You may think this scenario happens only occasionally, but in the outsource marketing world, it’s common.

How agency hopping hurts your bottom line

Agency hopping is painful for both parties, but it hurts your bottom line the most. Most of the investment you put into finding an agency partner is spent in the first few months bringing them onboard. If you are unhappy only three months into the engagement, you haven’t had a chance to see ROI. 

As President of Clarity Quest Marketing, I’ve signed hundreds of clients in multiple industries. Seventeen of them have been successfully acquired, and one went public. Before starting this agency, I hired PR and advertising firms as the head of marketing for big and small tech companies.  I’ve sat in both seats and can share my perspective from both sides. 

Tips for selecting an agency that fits your organization like a glove

Here’s a shortlist of recommendations that lower the risk of hiring the wrong agency.

  1. Have a clear vision of what you want the agency to accomplish.  Know what success will look like in six months and one year if you engage.  For example, do you need strategic direction or more tactical hands on deck?  Are you trying to increase brand awareness or demand generation?  
  2. Don’t use a surrogate to vet your agencies. If you rely on your equity partner or a consultant to find an agency, there’s no guarantee YOU will like working with them or the agency will like working with you. Venture capitalists, investors, and consultants have different agendas and different work styles than your company. They might not know the right questions to ask. Make the time to meet and interview agencies yourself.
  3. Qualify the agency on your terms. You don’t have to issue 20-page RFPs to find the right agency, even if your competitors use this approach. You might be more comfortable with in-person meetings, web-meetings, or phone conversations. We have successful, long-term relationships with clients that selected us after two phone calls and some that involved a multi-month sales process. However, the ones that involved just coffee, lunch, and a pitch meeting are often the longest lasting.
  4. Some of the best boutique agencies don’t participate in RFPs or will only participate if there’s a small number of competitors, a reasonable timeline, or a perceived perfect fit. If you issue a huge RFP with a super-tight response deadline, you will get responses from agencies that are not busy. Is that the agency you want?
  5. Ask references if they hold the same values. If you’re obsessed with timely delivery or otherworldly creativity, then be sure to ask references for specific examples of how the agency provided those things. Don’t only ask if the agency filled their sales funnel.
  6. Do you connect on levels outside of business? Marketing is not accounting. Marketing is messy, fun, and creative. It’s finger paint mixed with logic. Grey matter and data analysis exist simultaneously. If you don’t have anything in common with the agency’s team members, it’s going to be tough to clear hurdles and work through challenges.
  7. Over the long-haul, issues and problems arise no matter how great both parties are. It will be so much easier to connect and share ideas if you have some hobbies or real-life experiences in common.

    Some of our best client engagements survived tough times because we had a mutual passion for yoga, P90X, tasty sangria, a nonprofit, or kayaking. A trusted relationship, not just an engagement, leads to a true partnership that weathers storms.
  8. Communicate with transparency to your internal staff. The executive should make it clear to any existing staff that the agency is not replacing them, but is simply an extension of the team. It would be similar if you were to outsource other strategic functional areas, such as accounting or public relations.  Involve your internal staff in the selection process.
  9. Set a realistic budget for marketing strategic planning and eventual execution. If you set a budget too low, you are setting you and the agency up for failure.  A good agency will let you know during the sales process if your expectations are not in line with your approved spend 
  10. Be ready to trust the agency you choose. You don’t need to be involved in every small decision regarding copywriting and graphic design. Give meaningful, detailed feedback to designers and copywriters and then let them fly.
  11. Don’t settle. If you get to the end selection round and are not crazy about any of the agencies, don’t hire one out of a sense of obligation to the process. You’ll have immediate buyer’s remorse. It’s better to spend the time looking for another agency or consider hiring in-house.
  12. Trust your gut. This one takes some time and experience, but everyone has a gut feeling about a potential partnership.

Once you find the right marketing agency, you’ll be astounded at how much you can accomplish. You’ll have more brainpower, more strategic thinking, a savvy outsider’s viewpoint, and more hands on deck. You’ll be glad you took the time at the beginning of the agency hiring process.

Note: This post was originally published in 2020 and has been updated to include new information.

Chris Slocumb

Author Chris Slocumb

Chris is the founder of Clarity Quest Marketing and Chief Growth Officer of Supreme Group. To learn more about Chris' experiences and qualifications, visit our leadership team page.

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