How to select the very best agency for your business.
So you want to hire a marketing agency. But how do you find the one that will deliver what it promises? What are the things you should ask and, most importantly, what are the answers you want to hear?
Here are some of the answers to these questions and insider tips on hiring agencies (and not regretting it afterward) from the perspective of a marketer.
Before You Begin
First things first. Before you start asking questions, answer a few yourself. You need to be able to get at least a general idea on the budget and your marketing goals.
What do you expect to achieve? How much are you willing to pay for it? Feel free to seek external advice from your professional connections with marketing budgeting experience at this stage if you need to. This is to set your expectations right and define your requirements for the agency. Do you need a small low-budget firm or a large marketing powerhouse? You need to know this or the agency will decide for you.
Keep in mind, though, it’s the cheap things that end up being the most expensive ones. Don’t underestimate the value of true expertise.
Okay, now that we’ve made that clear, let’s begin.
1. How do you measure the success of your campaigns and the team’s performance internally?
Despite what others will tell you, success isn’t immeasurable - you recognize it when you see it. Yes, not all metrics are universal, but it is not a good enough reason not to track progress.
Some marketers might have a perfectly polished pitch waiting to be pushed en masse. If you feel like they use a scripted speech to answer your specific questions, ask them what are the KPIs they use for the team’s performance evaluation? Is it a lean team or potential slackers? If the answers never mention anything even remotely connected to bringing value to the client directly or indirectly, they are not measuring what you need them to.
- Wrong KPIs: number of SM posts created, the quantity of words written per day/week, impressions as a measure of ads campaigns’ success.
- Right KPIs: engagement SM posts generated, the percentage of engaged readers for articles (average time readers spend on the page), leads created with articles (email subscribers, demo/quote requests), cost-per-conversion for ads campaigns, the percentage of converting leads from paid campaigns.
2. Which metrics are the most important for the campaign I’m interested in? Why?
Can they explain which metrics are the ones you should be looking at the most based on the type of your business and type of a campaign you are looking for?
Here are some examples of the metrics that matter:
- Cost-per-Conversion - how much does a qualified lead actually cost you? Is it worth it to keep the campaign running?
- Earning-per-Conversion* - if the cost of the conversion equals your revenues for this conversion, it might be a good time to pull the breaks. (* - This tracking might be harder to implement but if they can help you with that - fantastic!)
- Bounce Rate - tells you if the ads are effective and if you are reaching the right audience. High bounce rate signals either poor targeting or serious issues with the landing page.
- Time on Page & Pages per Session - do your website and content help or hurt your conversion? Also, helps understand even further if you attracted the right people.
- Social Media:
- Engagement - likes, shares, responses & comments, reposts - does your content move the needle or goes unnoticed? It’s important to compare the metrics before and after the agency begins.
- Reach & Audience - in most cases, after the agency starts working, organic reach has to jump significantly. But you also need to be able to see who exactly you are reaching - is your audience relevant to your business?
3. How will I see if things are going good/not so good from your report?
At this point, it would also be a good time to ask if they could provide you with a sample of a monthly report. Even just a template will do. Evaluate it based on how comprehensive it is. Would the metrics in the report give you an idea of where things are going? Would you be able to spot a negative trend in such a report?
If all you get is just basic reach and impressions report, it is tells you little to nothing. Instead, look for some metrics from the previous section. Ask them to add depth to basic parameters.
In case with clicks and website traffic, ask them to put things into context - origins of the click/user, demographic data, behaviour on the website after the first click, how long did they stay and how far in the website did they go, which pages are the most popular, best/worst performing pages.
Ask them to walk you through the report and to show which parts of the report contribute towards the strategic marketing goals - client or sales-related metrics, things contributing towards the ROI total.
Proof of Expertise
It’s true that digital marketing best practices are always in flux. This particular industry moves faster than most, especially in the 21st century, and there is no university or organization that can issue a degree in online marketing that wouldn’t get outdated in half a year.
But there are ways to check if the person is an expert or a wannabe. An expert goes above and beyond in everything they do, they don’t just fill in checklists but always try out new things and develop their skills.
To check if you are talking to experts, force them out of the formal answers zone.
4. Which of your campaigns do you consider your greatest success? Why?
Did they outperform their own estimates? Or managed to optimize Google Ads campaign to maximize ROI by much more than what the client expected? Ask about their marketing unicorns.
5. What is the most creative solution you’ve developed for your clients?
Ask them to tell you about one project or a creative campaign they ran which they are particularly proud of. What made it stand out?
6. Have you worked with a business in a “boring industry”? Examples?
Did they ever have to promote a plumber, window cleaning service or pest control? How about a manufacturing or toilet paper business? How would they promote (or have they done it before?) essential products that people don’t usually discuss enthusiastically?
7. How did you make people engage with your content in such a field?
Did they manage to create engaging content on topics people don’t usually talk about? Ask for examples of their work and look at the quality, use of relevant language and writing style. Is their writing engaging and insightful or boring to death? Do they craft killer titles for their articles?
8. What is your most innovative growth hack?
Is there some digital marketing solution you started using before everyone else? Have you been doing something before it became a mainstream method? Make them impress you with their innovative thinking.
The Dream Team
9. Can you introduce me to the people who would be working on my campaigns?
Just like in any other business, an agency is only as successful as the people behind it. Does your potential partner showcase their team on the website?
If it is a small agency, their team is everything they have. The absence of a Meet The Team page on their website should ring some bells for you (especially, if the prices are ridiculously low).
If it is a large agency, seek references, look for reviews and testimonials. There must be at least a few case studies and a portfolio documenting their successful service for someone else.
Unnecessary secrecy is often a (bad) habit of outsourcing operations that hire freelancers from developing countries on your behalf. The problem with such agencies is the complete unpredictability when it comes to quality - it’s basically a marketing Russian roulette.
10. How do you select your specialists? Are any of your specialists holders of Google, Hubspot or other relevant certifications?
Ask if you could be introduced to the people who would potentially run your account. Run a quick check on LinkedIn for previous experience and certifications.
The Decision Is Up To You
Just like after any interview, take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned from it. Take note of how the agency reacted to your questions, did they get visibly discouraged or handled it professionally and turned every question into an opportunity to shine with their talents?
Remember that more often than not, it is worth getting the slightly pricier option to maximize your investment. A poor choice will waste you a lot of time and even if the financial costs were low, you are then forced to start the selection process all over again, wasting even more time.
No matter how big or small, famous or new on the block, every agency needs you as a client so know your worth and choose wisely. I hope these questions will help you get a clearer picture of how to approach your company’s next marketing challenge!