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Choosing an agency

Long gone are the days of a handful of firms controlling the marketing world. With the advances of technology and the introduction of digital, the advertising game has changed drastically since its 1960s heyday.

Small businesses, many rely on their own abilities and the abilities of their staff for in-house advertising and marketing needs. But for most emergent companies, a partnership with an agency, consultancy or outsourcing work is an unavoidable step in the growth process.

The trouble with digital marketing is that it covers a huge number of areas and it’s not as simple as sending a copy to the printers or approving artwork for an advert. Done well, it can make an incredible difference to your business but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell who can do a good job. Just because someone is great at design does not mean they excel at web development and a web developer can’t necessarily make your website rank on Google.

Below are two tips to help you sift through what is an increasingly complicated industry, where more and more people claim to be ‘experts’.

1) Do they practice what they preach?

  • Does their website or social channels reflect the same polish and detailed consideration that you would want on your own web design or digital project? If they can’t deliver best-practice for themselves, don’t assume that they can deliver it for you.
  • With so many online marketing specialisms it’s not uncommon for agencies to outsource or hire freelancers but this can lead to problems if expectations aren’t managed. You should know who you’re paying for & if they have worked collaboratively before to avoid surprises. It also helps to speak to the third party if possible to ensure everyone is on the same page. All too often promises are made that can’t be kept when the person executing them isn’t present initially.
  • Succeeding in digital means having an appreciation for the visual and the technical. Does their website look AND function the way you would want yours to? Sometimes a site looks nice but isn’t fit for purpose or vice versa, working well but not that easy on the eye.

Overall, the rationale should be relatively straightforward if explained well but the media industry loves to babble on with buzzwords & theories that can seem a little farfetched to the average marketing manager. Call people out if you’re not familiar with a term and don’t be afraid to judge an expert on their own assets.

2) Ask to see a case study

  • Do they have expertise in the specific area your business needs help with? For example, if your business subscription led, has the agency worked with this business model before, are they aware of the metric involved and are they familiar with the third-party tools used for it. Remember you’re paying an agency to know this, not learn on the job at your expense.
  • You can track nearly everything online so there should be lots of information. You don’t necessarily want pages of data but vague outcomes aren’t useful (e.g. ‘it went from strength to strength’) Regardless of the type of work, be it web design, advertising, search marketing or social media there should be quantitative results. It can be argued that for branding these numbers aren’t as necessary but beware of those who don’t measure at all.
    • Check their reporting style; would you prefer more detail less often or topline updates each week – are they explaining rationale clearly and recommending improvements along the way? If challenged, do they listen and adjust or change their minds completely? These are all tells of who is fobbing you off and who genuinely wants the best for your business.

As simple as these points are – it’s amazing how many people overlook them and how many ‘experts’ can’t deliver.

Once you have a shortlist, ask to see an initial proposal based on a ballpark budget. Even if it’s a relatively small sum, it’s better to be realistic from the start. This will give you an opportunity to meet the team and see if they are the right fit for you, as well as compare their approaches & costs. While one may be better at creative & design, they may not have had experience with SEO – or someone great at SEO may not understand the intricacies of social media marketing; it’s about getting the right fit for your needs.

Hopefully, this has helped some of those businesses who aren’t sure where to turn. if you want to chat with us about any of the topics discussed drop us an email.


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