Posted on 9/6/2017

10 Qualities to Look for In a Marketing Agency

Brad Shorr

Selecting a marketing agency is a big decision, and often a quite perplexing one. As a tech startup, you’re a master of the complexities of your business and industry. However, you may be at a serious disadvantage when listening to agency pitches for two big reasons:

  1. With so many marketing options, how can you judge whether one agency’s strategy will be more effective than another?
  2. You may not know enough about the technicalities of marketing execution to judge whether an agency has what it takes to get the job done.

To make an informed decision and greatly improve the likelihood of successful marketing, look closely at these 10 agency attributes.

  1. Financial Stability
    Marketing is a rapidly evolving industry, causing agencies to struggle and dissolve. Unexpectedly losing your agency one or two years into a campaign creates serious headaches, and causes marketing efforts to go sideways or backward for months. Agencies with financial strength can weather the storms of change, bringing in new personnel and support systems as needed to keep up with industry innovation.
  2. Fit
    Is your business a good fit in terms of the scope and nature of your planned marketing activities? Does the agency have experience in your niche? If not, your campaign is likely to be a lab experiment, which may not be what you’re after.
  3. Scalability
    Does your business have an aggressive growth plan? If so, you want an agency that can grow with you. The ideal is to partner with an agency adept at handling clients of your size and scope — and larger. In addition, there are firms that do a great job of getting startups off the ground, and partner with agencies that handle midsized firms when the time comes to make a handoff.
  4. Transparency
    Ask to see sample reports or mock-ups. A reputable agency wants you to see their work and understand what they are doing. Agencies that hide details and obscure their pitch with technical jargon may be more interested in collecting fees than getting results.
  5. Staffing
    An agency with a deep internal staff is more secure than one that relies on a patchwork network of freelancers. With an in-house staff, the agency has control over the distribution of work and can deliver consistent execution on your campaigns. Agencies reliant on freelancers are much more vulnerable to disruptions in workflow.
  6. Referrals
    An agency should be eager to have you talk to other clients. Ideally, you want to talk to clients not necessarily in the same business, but having the same campaign scope and goals. This will give you an idea of whether the agency can execute the job you need done. In your case, you’ll likely find the best feedback from startup clients with similar objectives and timelines for customer acquisition, revenue and geographic/demographic market penetration.
  7. Online Profile
    Does the agency have positive client reviews posted on its website, or better yet, on independent review websites? Does the agency’s social media sites have large, engaged communities? Is its website solidly designed, well written and easy to navigate? Although agencies sometimes fall into the “shoemaker’s children” syndrome, an outstandingly good (or bad) online profile sends a signal worth noting.
  8. Personality
    Marketing involves a lot of collaboration, communication and ironing out of problems. If you like the people you’re working with at an agency, this work is far less stressful and becomes positively exciting. During the vetting process, spend time over lunch or dinner or doing some other social activity to get a sense of whether the relationship will be enjoyable.
  9. Expertise
    Has the agency won awards or earned industry recognition? Has it produced any original research? Has it developed any proprietary processes or software used in the execution of its campaigns? Do the individuals that oversee specific areas of marketing (e.g., SEO, social media, email marketing) have impressive resumes and accomplishments? Don’t shy away from asking these questions.
  10. Management
    Any type of marketing campaign involves at least several individuals and a number of activities that must be executed in a certain order and frequency. Top-performing agencies have documented processes for campaign management, and assign project managers or account managers to the client to make sure all work is done on time and on budget. Ask plenty of questions to get a feel for how your campaign will be managed internally at the agency.

About the Author

Brad Shorr | Straight North

Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an SEO, Chicago-based company also providing PPC and web design services. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Brad has been featured in leading online publications including Smashing Magazine, American Marketing Association and Forbes.


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