The marketing services industry encompasses a lot of monikers and changing service models (PR firms, ad agencies, integrated marketing agency
vs. full service agency, social media boutiques, digital marketing firms, web design shops, etc.), so getting to the truth of finding a great marketing partner can be difficult.
After 20 years
of fielding inbound questions from potential clients, similar themes arise about the information that potential clients want in order to measure up an agency provider. The best questions to ask when selecting a marketing agency center around these themes:
- Client / Agency fit
- Attention to your account
- Industry experience
- Talent and tenure of the professionals you’re hiring
- Financial model of the agency
- Strength of ideas from the marketing agency
- How both parties look at partnership
- How the agency will fit into your brand’s needs
Here are some pointers on how to get the insight you're looking for by framing questions differently around these themes.
Client / Agency Fit
An easy question to a potential agency partner is about their case studies. Instead, ask for clients stories, especially when meeting face-to-face. Every agency should have a portfolio and most have case studies, but your real insights into a potential partner are going to come from the stories they tell you versus the sanitized details of a case study. When measuring cultural fit, ask the agency to tell you about their favorite client relationships and what makes them special versus the rest of their accounts.
Some clients want to know the top accounts at a potential agency. If you are really trying to judge fit by who they associate with, then ask. If you're looking to see how big of a fish you'll be in their pond, come out and ask based on your budget and where you'd fall into their client roster.
When you ask about experience in your industry, know beforehand how critical this will actually be. The importance can really be determined by the nature of the work you are asking of a new agency. Perhaps you want familiarity with pertinent regulations in your industry or maybe you’d find comfort in that they have worked in other industries that require oversight, too. Small projects rarely need a lot of industry insights, however larger relationships can benefit from it.
Another way to look at experience is not the actual industry, but with the end consumer. Ask about insights into customer segments that are important to your brand. Finally, asking the marketing agency what they think of specific trends happening in your industry or customer category is a way to have a much richer conversation to judge their experience.
Tenure & Quality of Talent
Many of these questions don’t matter if the marketing firm cannot keep their clients or their employees around for long. Understand what the average tenure of their clients are as well as average employee tenure. Then, ask to understand more about why their longest clients stay with them.
If the technical depth of a certain marketing service is important to you and if you don’t have the ability to go deep in the weeds about it, then ask where past agency employees in that service are employed now. This can be a strong signal on the quality of talent they attract.
Many brands have been burned on the financial aspect of the relationship so make sure to understand what the agency’s financial model looks like and how they handle scope changes and billing disputes. Ask to understand various payment policies because many agencies will allow flexibility if terms are agreed to upfront.
We hear many brands that are unhappy with their current agency relationship based on the lack of ideas they receive. Every agency will nod their heads and say they do this for all their clients, but seek to understand if the agency has a process for supplying you with these ideas or if you have a process that you would like them to conform to (annual summits, quarterly reviews, product launch ideation, etc.).
Beyond the rhythm of how the agency supplies you with ideas, ask about their favorite ideas they’ve supplied to clients – both the ones that were implemented and those on the cutting room floor.
Marketing firms, ad agencies, web design shops, SEO firms, etc. are all in the professional services field, so ask about their approach to customer service. Do they have service or support policies, off-hour availability, SLAs, customer service training for their team, systems to support great service based on the planned and unforeseen needs of your business?
Based on your needs, ask about other clients of theirs that fit the mold of the service response you desire.
Integration Into Your Resources
How will the agency fit into your puzzle and not the other way around? Avoid the various marketing myths that some organizations get caught up in during a sales spiel or from not understanding their own reality. Understand how the agency headcount breaks out to determine if there is the depth of expertise and availability that you require. Then match all of this up with how it fits into your puzzle of in-house talent, upcoming deadlines, budgets, etc.
The marketing industry continues to move and evolve fast. Ask how your new agency partner will keep you up to speed as well as how they keep their staff sharp to best serve you. The training an agency provides their staff can tell you volumes about what’s important to them.
There's enough on marketers’ plates these days on top of finding a great agency partner. Make this an easier task by reframing the questions you ask a potential marketing firm so you can get better information to make this important decision.