Experienced in brand management, a marketing firm can put your business on the industry map and help your brand stay relevant. And, while your internal processes are vital to your business, a good brand image sends a strong message to prospective employees, potential customers, as well as your competition. Whether you run an established business or a new startup, there is no question you can benefit from building your brand.
So, once you have realized you need to pay more attention to your brand image, you decided to hire a marketing firm. But how do you go about choosing the best marketing firm for your business?
Step #1: Know Your Brand
You may think you know your brand, but how well do you know it? Business and brand are completely different things. You may know your business inside and out, but your brand image depends a lot on how other people perceive you.
Agencies can often ask weird questions like “If your brand was a celebrity, which celebrity would it be”, or “If your brand was an animal, what animal would it be?” Are you sure you have the answers to these questions? Although they may sound silly, these questions tell the agency a lot about your brand, and help them understand what your business is about.
You have to know who your target audience is and how your brand is perceived. Only then can you assess whether an agency understands your brand. Furthermore, no agency can work alone. They will all need guidelines and briefs from you in order to do their jobs. The only way to guide them is to be the person that knows all there is to know about their own brand.
Step #2: Know Your Goals and Needs
Before you can find an agency that best suits your needs, you need to be clear about what your marketing needs are. This can be a bit harder than it seems. When it comes to business goals, most companies will agree that increasing revenue is the most important one. But marketing goals can often vary on the type of business you’re running.
For instance, if you’re a young company just starting to make an impact in the industry, your marketing activity would be focused on increasing brand awareness. On the other hand, if you run an e-shop that sells sneakers, you would probably use marketing campaigns to increase sales. Maybe you’ve been in the business for 10 years, and all you need now is a new modern website. Think about your marketing goals and keep them in mind while searching for an ideal marketing firm.
Additionally, you should decide what kind of work your agency will do for you. Do you need them to manage your social media accounts and online campaigns? Or do you need them to completely reinvent your brand, design a new logo and create a wholesome campaign? Whatever you need, your future agency has to have a proven track record in that field.
Step #3: Local or National Firms
While searching for your future marketing firm, this is one of the first questions you need to ask yourself. If you prefer face-to-face meetings over emails and conference calls, you’re better off with a local agency. After all, chatting with your account manager at your favorite coffee place can create a stronger relationship with the agency and build trust.
However, going for a non-local agency gives you a larger choice, and may benefit you in the long run. Your company may be based in LA, but there could be an East Coast agency that fits your needs perfectly.
Quality service is the most important factor when choosing a marketing firm. It may be better to settle for conference calls if that’s what it takes to hire an agency that is ideal for your business.
Step #4: Start Your Search
Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start searching!
Good old Google should be the best place to start since most accomplished agencies have contact forms on their websites. While browsing through Google results, be aware of the Google search ads. Some marketing firms that show up in your search have probably paid Google to be in that position. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but keep in mind that this doesn’t mean they’re better than the others. It just means they have invested in self-promotion. Don’t always go for the top three results. Rather take your time, do your research thoroughly, and read through the websites of all agencies that look interesting.
To narrow your search a little, you should always search for a specific marketing service. For instance, instead of typing “marketing agencies NY”, you’re better off typing “content marketing Agencies NY”, if content is what you need. That way, mostly marketing agencies specialized in content show up in your search results, saving you time and making your quest easier. Marketing has a lot of subdisciplines, so be sure that you find an agency that fits your business goals and what you’d like to accomplish!
Ideally, you want to find more than 10 agencies that fit your criteria. Then you can start comparing them and narrowing this number down to at least five.
Step #5: Check Out Their Online Presence
The quality of the website should be the first sign of an agency’s expertise. If they can’t advertise themselves, chances are they can’t advertise you. The best marketing firm will have a well-designed website, with clear information structure and easy navigation. Only consider this kind of websites.
Whatever service you’re looking for, your ideal agency should have that service clearly displayed on their website. If you need content and SEO, you probably shouldn’t go for the agency that has “WE DESIGN WEBSITE SOLUTIONS” written in huge block letters on their homepage.
Furthermore, find the agency on social networks. Most marketing firms have their own LinkedIn profiles. There, you can learn more about their activity and employees. You can also find a lot of information on their Facebook page – someone could have left a bad review or a comment on one of their posts. Also, most agencies brag about their new, exciting projects on their Facebook page.
Step #6: Check Their Credentials
Most marketing firms have sections of their website dedicated to work they are especially proud of. It’s usually called something like “our work”, “cases”, “portfolio”, etc. Check it out and see what they can do when given enough time, resources, and trust.
Additionally, if you need design services, but most of their best work is about performance marketing, you might not be a good fit. Make sure that your future agency does its best work in the field you need it for. Look at what industries they worked for. If your company specializes in fashion, you want to make sure they have experience with some fashion brands or retailers.
Don’t hesitate to dig deep – if they handle social media, go to their client’s Facebook page and check out a couple of posts. If they designed a website, visit and analyze it. You can go as far as to contact some of their clients and ask them about their marketing agency. They may be able to tell you more about the agency’s dedication, work ethic, and communication.
Step #7: Get in Touch
Once you have compared all the potential firms, you can start contacting them. A simple email describing your business, followed with a link to your website, should do the trick. You can also mention the reasons you’re considering their agency, and highlight which service you are most interested in. It’s even better if you can find an account manager from the agency and get in touch with them, as some agencies rarely check their general office emails.
Suggest a face-to-face meeting or a conference call. Their response time can be a good indicator of future cooperation. If they take more than two work days to respond to your email, that should be a major knock against them. You want your marketing firm to be quick and responsible.
There is a chance that some agencies might not be interested in working with you, especially if you run a small business. Don’t get disheartened. The advertising industry is fierce, and its revenue has been growing steadily in the past decade. Many marketing agencies are working at full capacity and choose their new clients carefully.
Step #8: Hold Meetings
Once you’ve organized meetings with different marketing firms, it’s time to prepare some questions. You want to make sure that your future agency shares the same vision and passion for your brand. Face-to-face meetings are a great opportunity to see how they think in the moment and get a general feel for their personalities and corporate culture.
Here are some things you should focus on:
Who came to the meeting? – If the company’s CEO is attending your meeting, that means they are very interested in working with you. On the other hand, if you are alone with their account assistant, they may not feel like this potential new business is that important.
Are they familiar with your business? – Ask them what they know about your company and industry. A serious marketing firm will research every detail about your business before meeting you, and come to the meeting well prepared. They should already know what your competition is and what challenges you may face in your industry.
What is their attitude? – It is important that your future agency has the same attitude as you. If you come to the meeting wearing t-shirt and jeans and they are all wearing suits and ties, you might not be a good match. Make sure they share the same values and feel the same way about your brand as you do.
How do they perceive themselves? – Ask them to describe their agency in a few words. Are they all about performance marketing or do they pride themselves on their creative side? Although you may think you learned this from their website, they might tell you something else. Most agencies are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Steer clear of the agencies that tell you they are good at everything.
What are their suggestions? – By now, they should already have a couple of ideas for some marketing activities. See if you like their ideas and the way they are thinking. Keep in mind that these suggestions came from the top of their minds and don’t think of them as finished suggestions. Rather take this opportunity to see if their way of thinking matches yours.
Step #9: Make Them Pitch Their Ideas
When you’ve narrowed your choice to between three and five agencies, you can organize a pitch. This is the best way to see them at work and find the best marketing firm for your business.
Give them an assignment similar to something they would be doing if you hired them. Make sure that your brief is clear and give them as much information as possible. The pitch should test their abilities and show you what the agency can do for your business once they get the job. Keep in mind that, while you want to give them enough time to do a good job, you should give them a realistic deadline to see how they work under pressure.
During the pitch, ask yourself these questions:
Are they creative? The solution they present should be innovative and original – something you couldn’t have thought of yourself.
Is the solution useful? Even if the visuals are beautiful and the copy is catchy, their solution has to offer benefits for your business. Since more and more people are using the internet on a daily basis, their solution should include some digital activity. This is a good indicator that they are following trends.
How did they present it? A good marketing firm should present their case with passion and dedication. They have to show complete control over the matter and understand what they are talking about.
How much time did they take? First of all, don’t consider the agencies that failed to meet the deadline. That cannot be a good start of a professional relationship. Secondly, take into consideration how long did it take for each agency to deliver their solution. It should not be the deciding factor, but it should affect your final decision.
Pay attention to each presentation and take notes. After they are done with presenting their ideas, ask them some questions. There is a good chance they have rehearsed this pitch, so any additional questions can catch them off guard. This is a good way to see how they think and how seriously they have researched your industry.
Step #10: The Final Decision
At the end of the pitch, sometimes as a separate document, most marketing firms will include their fee structure. This is the final factor that should influence your decision. Take it into consideration, along with all the other factors we mentioned, and choose your marketing agency.
The price should not be a deciding factor. Go with the agency that impressed you with their work, approach, and attitude. In fact, most agencies are willing to make some compromises regarding their prices and meet you half way. Sometimes it’s even better to pay more for an excellent service than to pay less and end up working with an agency that delivers average solutions.
Remember, client service and communication are key factors. It’s important to choose an agency that understands your needs and reacts well to your feedback. You want your agency to always be there for you, and eventually take most of your marketing activities.
Although the number of marketing firms has been decreasing, there are still more than 30,000 marketing agencies in the US. Choosing one to fit your business might seem confusing at the beginning. But, once you figure out what your marketing needs are, you should have an idea what kind of agency you’re looking for. Then you can search for the best agencies that fit that profile and match your ambition.
You should also consider hiring more than one agency. Most marketing firms are specialized in one specific field. So, for instance, you can hire an agency for your digital marketing and another one for your PR activities. A lot of agencies are used to working together, so this should be a problem for no one.
Choosing the best marketing firm for your business should be a long, analytical process. After all, you have put your heart and soul in your company and you want an agency that appreciates you and takes its job seriously. You can often feel that from the very beginning – sometimes a special chemistry is born and you click perfectly. That’s when you know you have found a long-term business partner that shares your values and passion for business.