Choosing the right marketing agency for your business can be confusing! There are a lot of agencies with different specializations and experiences who are all fighting for your attention. How do you choose the one that’s right for you? Unfortunately, there is no miracle answer to your marketing questions and challenges. You may need to try a few different engagements before you realize exactly what you want or don’t want in an agency. Ultimately, choosing the right agency means setting realistic expectations and collaborating closely with the agency team that has the right skills and agility to help you get you where you want to go, in the right time, and with the right budget.
In this guide, we will walk you through the different types of agencies, what we think are your most important considerations, and the red flags to watch out for when choosing an agency!
Home to some of the world’s biggest minds, an advertising agency is normally responsible for creating product and service campaigns that leave a lasting impression on consumers. They are dedicated to conceptualizing, ideating, planning, and creating multi-level marketing campaigns for different channels — from television, print, radio, to the cyber depths of the world wide web. Advertising agencies are usually classified into two categories: multinationals and small and medium-sized firms.
Good design that speaks volumes. For most creative agencies, this is the ultimate philosophy that guides every work they do. By building a brand from the ground up through the power of design — a.k.a. that time you gave in and bought something because of its attractive packaging — and creativity, businesses normally turn to the design wizards and strategists at creative agencies to make their once abstract ideas into reality.
Did you know that as of Jan 2020, 59% of the global population are internet users? That’s over 4.5 billion people online and a 7% jump from this time last year. With more and more people having access to and relying on the internet to influence their everyday decisions, more digital marketing firms are popping up around the world. From big global brands to fledgling SMEs, digital marketing agencies provide companies the services — SEO content, Pay-per-click marketing and Social media ads — to scale and generate profit while letting business owners focus on what’s best: the growth of their brand.
With the shift from traditional media to digital media consumption, media agencies have evolved greatly from what they used to be. Not so long ago, we might have known them to be the people in charge of planning exact TV spot placements, radio spots, or billboard ads. Nowadays most media agencies provide businesses an even wider range of media options, from programmatic buys, to social media, and for some, even on-ground experiential placements. But whatever the placement may be, a media agency helps businesses strategize on when and where to advertise, allowing them to reach their intended market in an optimal and timely manner.
While other types of agencies specialize mainly in paid or owned media planning, public relations agencies promote companies through earned media. PR agencies still share the same goal as any marketing agency out there — promoting products, ideas, individuals and services that make an impact in people’s lives. But they do this through amplification of editorial coverage on earned media, some examples would include native placements on publisher websites, sponsored content with bloggers, or even Instagram posts from influencers.
Knowing the differences among specific types of marketing agencies will help you narrow down your options, but choosing which agency within that vertical will still be tricky. Although we’ve tackled many different kinds of agencies, we’ll be discussing many key considerations for digital marketing/performance marketing agencies, since that is what Cardinal Digital is. Many of these considerations may still apply for choosing other types of agencies. We’ve rounded up some of these considerations to help you better decide before you sign that bottom line!
As needs can vary from business to business, it is important to identify and understand where you are as a company. This should help guide your marketing requirements, and it can give you a realistic idea of the support you can provide for your partner agency. Take into consideration the size of your company, or your internal team setup. For example, do you have a sales team to address leads that come in? Or is your team large enough to handle a higher volume of leads from marketing efforts? You may also need to think about your market geography and its competitive landscape, to give you an idea of what you need to do to stand out. Are you entering a new market where no one knows about you? Are you playing in a highly competitive space?
These considerations help narrow down your options, based on your available resources, and unique needs as a company. After this, then you can start listing your needs. Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to help you narrow the options:
- Do you have a constant stream of client inquiries, or do people constantly talk to you only? Maybe you need Community Management.
- Do you provide a product or service that people search for? Explore Search Engine Marketing.
- Do you want to build an organic yet loyal following? Try influencer partnerships, or develop original content.
- Are you trying to penetrate farther flung regions that might not have access to digital media? Look into traditional media placements.
- Do you want to create an on-ground brand experience to launch and have the resources to do so? Set up an event.
- Are you after mass reach and brand awareness? Explore different media placements.
Before you even start accepting pitches, you need to figure out and break down your budget. What is your total marketing budget? What percentage of this will go to to your media spend? How much are you going to spend for production? The better you can outline the budget you have, the more mindful you can be in knowing what kind of agency you can partner with, and what services to prioritize or let go. While budgeting, remember that you should be spending according to the size of your company: spend where you can minimize risk, but maximize returns. Your marketing budget can be broken down in to the following:
Media spend: The spend dedicated to paid media placements, which may include your traditional media budget, or your digital media ads budget. Your media mix will be identified based on the needs and goals you listed previously.
Production spend: The amount you will need to allocate for production will depend on your available resources. Do you have existing materials to run as ads? If the answer is no, then you may need additional production budget to cover production of your marketing materials.
Agency Retainer fees: Don’t forget to factor in your agency fees to your budget. Some agencies charge a percentage of your ad spend, others will charge on a retainer basis, some will do both. While you may not know yet what an agency will charge you based on your requirements, give yourself a buffer for what you would be able to afford.
Setting KPIs is important when partnering with an agency because it sets expectations and demands accountability. So before you go into that meeting with your would-be agency team, consider giving them the things that you expect. Do you have a target number of leads per month? At what cost? Is there a specific sales figure you’re trying to hit? Know what your goals are, but also make sure that your investment matches the goal you are trying to achieve. Both sides can then agree on the level of agility and commitment for the duration of the partnership.
Doing this also allows your agency to better tailor their strategy and services to meet your performance indicators, but also allows them to help you come up with more realistic projections based on your available resources. For example, while many of our clients give us exact target figures, as a performance marketing agency, we try to help manage their expectations by projecting what’s possible, but at the same time we consistently aim for positive return on investment.
More than the performance and services offered by an agency, a good culture fit is also something to watch out for when choosing one. Since you’re entrusting the future of your business to this team, you need to connect with your intuition and better judgment — Are they trustworthy? Do they have the same work ethics as my company and I do? What will be the setup of the team I’ll be working with? Will I be getting 1 account generalist or a team of different specialists? Create a list of your expectations for your marketing dream team. This will help you narrow down your choices.
Once you’ve answered the right questions when choosing an agency, it’s time for you to watch out for possible red flags that you might encounter before even partnering up with one. In fact, some of our clients have specifically asked us for this so we’ve listed below what we usually tell them. These are some of the things that show an agency’s inexperience.
As the famous Italian saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Just like the world-famous European city, the same goes for any business out there looking to find ways to “hack” their way into instant success. Many agencies out there present glowing — and wildly inaccurate — projections of growth and sales leads to entice potential clients. While this may be a very attractive proposition, most business owners can immediately sniff out what’s a reasonable estimate versus numbers that seemed to have been taken out of a fairytale book.
For example, we hear of some agencies that promise a specific number of leads per month, which is very promising from the point of view of the client. But if the agency does not specify where leads will come from, or the money you need to shell out to attain them, or even a basic roadmap of how they are going to achieve that goal, then you gotta start giving it a second thought. Who knows, maybe they're sending you leads from an obscure geography thousands of miles away, because it's much cheaper. Sure, you're getting leads or, sure your online presence is growing, but are they actually qualified?
So if your agency promises you a haven of immediate growth, be wary. There’s no such thing as instant and rapid growth, let alone if done in an organic way. At Cardinal Digital we take pride in not only managing digital marketing activities of our clients, but in helping them grow their business as well, because we go above and beyond the basic duties of a performance marketing agency. In our case, our clients' businesses continue to grow, while our company also continues to learn and grow with them.
Good research always precedes anything extraordinary. In order for you to effectively market your product or service, you should have an excellent marketing and strategy plan. That’s why it should be a shiny red flag if your agency just decides to give you a plan based on previous experiences and sugar-coated impulses.
Anything that gets conceptualized and created during your partnership with the agency should be considered your company’s intellectual property. From campaigns to websites, each collaborative output is under your discretion and control.
We’ve heard from some of our friends in the industry, that some of the agencies they worked with still maintain control over their clients’ digital assets even after the engagement. It’s a no brainer for us that those would belong to the client. That’s why it’s very important to clarify and set clear terms regarding these valuable assets from the get-go. If an agency keeps you in the dark about ownership, then it might be an early sign of things going haywire in the end.
Great partnerships between a professional marketing agency and client are built on foundations of mutual trust, open communication, and agile execution. It can take some time to find the right team to work with you, just as it’s hard to find the right hire for a job. If you’re in the process of looking for a new agency to partner with, hopefully this list helps you make the best decision for you and your company.
Boutique PR agencies are small to medium-sized agencies specialising in public relations, helping your business with media outreach, communications, planning and giving your brand a public voice.