Finding a new agency isn’t for the faint of heart. Many steps go into how to choose a marketing agency. Each step of the process is riddled with pitfalls. As such, many find themselves struggling to cut through all the flash and parade. This article will provide some essential tips and tools to help you make sense of things. 

The Different Types of Marketing Agencies

All agencies are not created equal. It is kind of silly, but the story One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, by Doctor Seuss, comes to mind when I think about all the different agencies out there. In other words, they come in all shapes and sizes. The most important thing to consider is that agencies typically specialize. There are digital agencies, event agencies, content agencies, branding agencies, SEO agencies…. you get the point. Visit this page for a breakdown, with an explanation of the major marketing agency types. The goal here is to narrow down your search to the right kind of agency. 

Agency Size Matters

Like most things in life, agencies fall into a spectrum of sizes. You’ll see everything from the individual freelancer to the niche ten-person shop to the multi-national agency conglomerate out there. Therefore, the big question is, how do to choose a marketing agency that is right for you? 

The rule of thumb I’ve always followed is to find an agency that needs your work. The agency where your project feels “big” to them is probably the right size. As an example, if you are a small business wanting to do a small website redesign, you’re probably not going to want to go with the multi-national agency conglomerate. Not only do they charge a whole heck of a lot more, they typically won’t put their best people on the project. They are more focused on keeping the clients that they can’t afford to lose, which in this case, are going to be the large multi-national brands. For the small business, I typically recommend looking for a smaller agency. Most importantly, small agency pricing is more tailored for small businesses, and you’ll get their A-team.  

Location Matters Less Each Day

Opinion on where an agency should be located in proximity to your office differs depending upon with whom you speak. My point of view is that the world is increasingly virtual. Even when I had an agency in the same town, we only saw each other a few times per year. If you manage a national or global brand, I don’t see any considerable value to being able to drive over and see each other vs. taking a flight. That said, having a local agency can be helpful if you’re targeting a specific geography. For example, if you’re located in Atlanta, and you’re only targeting consumers in Atlanta, there is a likely benefit of going with an Atlanta based marketing agency.  

Find a Partner that Cares: 

First off, you believe you are looking for a marketing agency. However, I’d argue that what you’re really looking for is a marketing partner that cares as much about your brand as you do. There are tactical agencies out there that will churn out content or website pages. Sometimes these agencies are the right ones for small projects. That said, if you’re looking for the agency to help you make your mark, I’d recommend looking for the agency that takes pride in their clients and their work.  

Finding an agency that “cares” can be complicated. Among other things, what you’re stress testing is whether or not you think an agency shows enthusiasm in their past work. The agency that does this is excited to share recent examples. They will use previous client work as a way to explain how they will help with your project. In contrast, an agency that plops down a generic quote, devoid of any pride for their past work, may not be right.  

How to Choose A Marketing Agency: Additional Key Points

Can the Agency Sell Themselves? 
  • How an agency conducts itself when pitching their firm is incredibly important. Keep in mind that their role is to potentially pitch your company to the world. How they act with you is a telltale sign of how they’ll represent your company in the future. Watch for things that get you excited or rub you the wrong way. Use your gut. 
Validate Client Engagements: 
  • An agency’s past work and past clients should always be looked at together. As an example of why this is important, a small Mercedes dealership may have hired an agency for local work. As such, the agency will then display a Mercedes logo on their site. A contract with the larger Mercedes corporation on a global scal is a much different level of clientele than a local dealership. However, the logo in their “Past Clients” section will be the same. Obviously you want to make sure that you fully understand the difference. The solution is to inquire about the specific work they’ve done for the client. In other words, do some due diligence here. 
Meet the People You’d Be Working With: 
  • If possible, meet the agency and team you’ll be working with in person. Ask to speak directly to whoever will be managing your account post-sales process. This person is who you will be spending the majority of your time working with, not the salesperson trying to bring you on the account, so it’s essential to meet them early on.
Take the RFP (Request For Proposal) Process Seriously:
  • The first time you submit an RFP to an agency will be the first chance you get to see how they respond to selling a potential customer (you) on a product/service (them). Therefore, if they can’t knock this out of the park, then there is a good chance the agency isn’t right for you. This whole process all starts with drafting a professional RFP that you send to the agencies on your shortlist. Be as detailed as possible with your RFP. Following a structured RFP process will cut down on miscommunication during the process. Plus you’ll come out on the other end with a standard set of items to compare and contrast the agencies. You can find a marketing agency RPF template here if you don’t already have one. 

How to choose a marketing agency can be a dangerous task. However, by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, it’s something that anybody can complete successfully. In the end, it’s part instinct, part looking for someone you simply like, and part comparing and contrasting a legitimate set of agencies that you’d added to your shortlist. 

Hungry for more? Check out this post about how to find a top digital marketing agency or get started in your search for an agency.