You may be considering hiring a marketing agency for any number of reasons. Maybe you want to supplement the capabilities of your in-house marketing team. Or perhaps you need some guidance on your marketing strategy.
Your marketing activities might not be getting the results you’re hoping for, or you want to expand into new markets. You might even be thinking about replacing your current marketing firm.
Whatever your reasons, you’re not alone. Only 41% of B2B businesses keep all of their marketing tasks in-house, which means:
But hiring a marketing agency is not a commitment to take lightly. You want to use your company’s time and money wisely, and you don’t want to invest in a relationship that isn’t going to benefit you.
Do you even know where to start in making this important decision?
Here are answers to some of the questions you may have about choosing the right marketing agency for you.
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When you’ve finally made the decision to partner with an agency, it’s tempting to want to reach out right away. You want to see who’s out there and what they have to offer. However, it’s best to complete some preliminary steps beforehand.
Before turning your focus outward, you need to spend time looking at your own organization. The insights you gain will go a long way toward creating a great relationship with your new agency.
First off, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve by hiring an agency. Why are you taking this step now? What needs to change with your current marketing strategy? Get buy-in from your internal stakeholders at this step to avoid roadblocks and disagreements later.
Be sure to agree on your budget, the scope of the work you’d like the agency to perform, and your time frames for hiring and retaining the agency.
It’s also important to clarify your goals for the agency relationship. You should map out your objectives and desired outcomes before meeting with them for the first time. In order for your agency relationship to be a success, you have to know what you’re trying to accomplish.
After you’ve completed your internal review, you need to do some research about the agencies you want to consider. Top recommendations on things to consider include:
Testimonials: While positive client testimonials on agencies’ website can be a good sign, don’t allow them to overly influence your final decision. Be aware that these aren’t always as objective and truthful as they seem.
Case Studies: Look to see whether they show results for businesses similar to your own. If agencies don’t have case studies about the specific services you’re interested in, ask them for other examples of their work.
Prices: Don’t make the mistake of automatically choosing the lowest-priced agency you can find. Their team might be inexperienced or lack confidence in their abilities.
On the other hand, don’t assume that the highest-priced agency is the best match for you. Agencies who charge a lot should be able to demonstrate results that justify the cost.
When evaluating agencies, make sure to interview a sample large enough to find a good match but small enough to be manageable. And when learning about each agency, be sure to ask plenty of questions.
Once you’ve completed research on your top choices, you’re ready to make a decision. Be sure not to rush this step. Choosing the wrong agency can have serious ramifications for both time and money.
Review all the information you’ve gathered and give it some thought. Also, think back on your first impressions of each agency. Your first interactions with each of them are telling, as are the impressions you had when first reviewing their websites. If your gut feelings are negative, don’t disregard them.
Since research is such a big part of the decision-making process, let’s talk a little more in depth about what factors you should look for in an agency. What are the signs of a valuable, right-fit agency?
Cultural fit and shared values are very important. The agency you choose should be easy to get along with and have core values that align with yours.
Part of this is making sure your working styles are similar. You want to agree about the level of collaboration and communication you expect, along with your approach to solving problems.
Be sure that the agency you choose is flexible. As your needs and objectives change, your agency should be is ready to shift direction with you. You will want to find an agency that is as invested in your success and growth as you are.
You want to make sure your chosen agency has the necessary level of general marketing experience, of course. And individual team members should be experienced in their areas of specialization. The agency’s expertise is often demonstrated through their portfolio and list of past clients.
Ideally, your agency will also have extensive experience in your industry. Their connections in the industry are important also, along with their reputation and influence in your field.
Your agency needs a successful track record too. Awards, reviews, and other types of recognition hint at an agency’s ability to achieve results. You should also consider the agency’s longevity.
Trust is the bedrock of any relationship, and your partnership with your agency is no exception. Some of this credibility should have been established during the research phase, when you reviewed the agency’s work, clientele, and financial situation.
But it’s in their ongoing relationship with you that trust is most important. Are they authentic? Do they have integrity? When problems arise, are you able to work through them together?
Communication with a trustworthy agency should be transparent. You should believe your agency’s words and actions can be trusted and that they align with your mutual goals.
We already addressed pricing as part of your background research. But there’s more to consider about the money you will be spending with your agency. Ultimately, the value the agency provides is most important.
You first need to be sure the cost of your contract works within your company’s budget. Also, payment processes should be clarified in advance.
To get the best value, the agency’s pricing must align with the results you hope to achieve. For a limited project, you don’t need a complete strategy overhaul at a top agency. One good rule of thumb is to try the least expensive agency option first, then try more expensive options as needed.
The final proof of value is in the results. In the long term, you will need to see marketing ROI that justifies the cost of the agency.
All in all, you want to make sure you have the right fit with an agency. When all the pieces are in place, your agency can be an invaluable partner to you. Most reputable agencies understand the necessity of this strong bond and its importance in attracting business.
Now that you know the factors that you should look for when choosing an agency, what should you avoid? After all, making the wrong decision on an agency can result in a lot of wasted time and money.
The list of things to avoid in an agency partnership is long. Many of them are just the lack of the desirable factors above, like poor cultural fit, inexperience, or distrust. But there are other minefields to watch out for.
False promises: Especially during the evaluation process, some agencies are so eager to land your business that they make promises they can’t keep. Beware of agencies who guarantee results up front with no knowledge of your overall strategy.
Unrealistic expectations: Even when there’s no intent to deceive, agencies sometimes promise more than they can deliver. Serious conversations about goals and budgeting will keep expectations aligned with actual results.
Focus on tactics: Avoid agencies who concentrate only on short-term tactics without a strategy in place. Here at Hudson Fusion, we use the OSI (objectives, strategies, initiatives) method to focus on achieving goals and tying tactics back to real objectives.
Lack of big-picture thinking: Your agency should be comfortable challenging your ideas and suggestions. Look for an agency that will refuse to implement bad ideas that don’t work for the good of the whole.
Weak partnership: Sometimes, relationships just don’t work out. Your agency should always provide you support and be invested in your business success and growth. If not, you probably don’t have a true partnership.
There are any number of ways to structure your business relationship with your agency. The most common billing methods are:
Hourly: for small one-time tasks
Per-project: for occasional campaigns and projects
Retainer: for long-term outsourced marketing
The structure you should choose depends on your budget and the results you hope to achieve. Be sure to discuss your expectations of your chosen structure with your agency before work begins.
Remember that marketing takes time to generate results. Common wisdom says it takes most marketing strategies at least 6 to 12 months to really gain traction.
For this reason, retainer relationships generally provide the best ROI.
Here at Hudson Fusion, we define a retainer as “a formal, clearly defined business relationship between a business and a marketing agency.” It’s an “ongoing partnership in which activities, initiatives, and responsibilities are clearly spelled out in a detailed proposal or “’statement of work’.”
To get started, clients usually will explain their specific business goals, and the agency will then design a strategy to achieve them. Costs, payment processes, and contract length are all decided up front.
Is a marketing retainer relationship right for you?
If you want to use multiple, integrated channels to achieve your marketing goals, it’s probably a good choice. Within this structure, a good agency can become a trusted, long-term partner strongly focused on results.
Benefits of retainers include continuity of branding and strategy, along with strong and cohesive marketing strategy. For these among other reasons, many customers choose to partner with an agency for periods exceeding two years.
After you’ve carefully chosen an agency, how can you make the most of this new relationship? How can you make sure it’s the right fit?
A positive agency relationship consists of two important factors.
Clear and open communication between you and your agency is critical. This involves communicating about progress toward established goals and being responsive to questions and concerns.
Establishing healthy communication goes both ways. As a client, your company needs to be willing to share all relevant information about your company with the agency, even as you expect the agency to be upfront about activities and results.
Frequency and quality of communication matters too. Too much communication can be as damaging as too little. To get the communication balance right, you can rely on project management platforms, scheduled timelines, clearly-defined responsibilities, and regular check-ins.
To keep the relationship running smoothly, both parties should work to clearly define expectations upfront. This applies to every area of the partnership, including deliverables, tactics, timelines, and costs, and budgets should align with goals.
It’s helpful to establish reporting expectations, deadlines, and mileposts to ensure accountability. It’s also a good idea to set SMART goals that are clear and definable.
If you follow the steps and suggestions we’ve discussed, you improve your chances of not only choosing a right-fit agency but also having a long and productive partnership with them.
Here at Hudson Fusion, we believe the most important part of finding the right agency for you is building a quality relationship. As a full-service marketing firm, we are committed to helping clients reach their goals.
We give our outsourced marketing partners the freedom and flexibility to choose the strategies that work for them while obtaining results that help their companies grow.
Whether you’re looking for a long-term retainer or short-term help with a project, we can help.
Want to learn more about working with Hudson Fusion? Schedule a time to talk with one of our marketing experts about how we can build a relationship that helps your company achieve results.
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“We have a trusting bond and partnership with Hudson Fusion and we could not have picked a better agency”