If I were asked to give an estimate of how many people I’ve heard having bad or underwhelming experiences with other agencies versus those who have had good experiences, I would have to say that I’d guess that it’d be a 50/50 (bad) or 60/40 (underwhelming) split, respectively.
At some point in your life you’re going to have a less than ideal working relationship with someone, and so regardless of whether or not you’ve worked with another agency before, it’s always best to do your due diligence to find a digital marketing agency partner who is going to be a really good fit for you, long-term.
Being honest with ourselves
When you start looking for an agency partner, you’re going to find that there are many different types who do things in different ways. Ultimately, you’re going to want to look for someone who is going to be a really good fit for you in a couple of areas; before you determine what those areas are, and what defines a “good fit”, it’s important for us (yes, all of us – even the agency you’re partnering with) to be truthful with ourselves and understand that we’re getting into a very personal, sometimes high stakes relationship. And as with any relationship, sometimes the fit is good, and sometimes it’s not.
Speaking truthfully, we [Regal], aren’t right for everyone. We’re a small-by-design agency and there are some types of companies that we just can’t support. Perhaps this is because we don’t have the right team members for what they need, perhaps it’s because we don’t work well with overpowering, micromanaging people who have high expectations and don’t want to pay for the services we provide, or perhaps it’s because our costs aren’t in line with the budgets available.
[…] with any relationship, sometimes the fit is good, and sometimes it’s not.
Whatever it is, it’s important to realize—and to be honest with ourselves—that not everyone is right for you / us. The more you can objectively see and accept this truth, the more time you can spend on doing great work with a great partner.
1. Budgets & Pricing
Probably one of the biggest things that are disregarded, or too well guarded, is the pricing and budget.
If you are an organization who is wanting to engage in a partnership with a digital marketing agency to receive digital marketing services, it is imperative that you determine how much you can actually spend on the activity. If you do not one) set a budget, and two) disclose what your budget is, you are honestly setting yourself up to fail.
That said, it is completely understandable that you don’t want to give away your budget, only to have it taken advantage of by the agency you partner with. The problem with this is, if you feel you’re going to be taken advantage of, you probably haven’t spent enough time evaluating partners, or you’ve probably made the wrong choice with your partner.
A good marketing agency partner will work with you to maximize the return on your budget, not mindlessly spend it. Determine what you can legitimately spend for your budget and let your shortlist of possible agency partners know what it is.
When it comes to agency pricing, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and when you work with a marketing agency, that still rings true. And so while every agency is going to be different with how they package and present their pricing models for digital marketing, you will find that if an agency has “low/cheap” and “get-you-results-quick-for-barely-any-money” pricing, they’re probably not a good agency—for you or anyone else.
Let’s do a morality stress test: If you were running a marathon and you cut corners to improve your time – do you think you would be okay with getting caught?
The answer to that question is hopefully “no”, no you would not be okay with getting caught. The same is true with your marketing and how you choose your partner: if you’re cutting corners to try and get ahead or save some money, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to lose.
So, if you want great marketing and great results, you will have to be ready to pay for it. If you want to go cheap, then you should expect to get cheap, and will need to be okay with subpar results.
2. Credibility & Team
As mentioned earlier, finding the right “fit” is a really important thing to consider. If you partner with someone just because they’re “cost effective”, or just because they have some cool design work, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good fit for you. And if they’re not a good fit, this could lead to a lot of lost time, money, and frustration down the road.
To determine if someone is a good fit for you, it really boils down to doing your due diligence; simply put, research your options.
In other words, don’t narrow your search to the first company you find – shop around. Search the web for digital marketing agencies in your area, region and/or state. Doing searches like “milwaukee digital agency” or “milwaukee digital marketing” will turn up good results for companies in the Milwaukee area that provide the services you’re seeking. Naturally, this assumes you’re in Milwaukee and looking for a local agency partner. If you’re not, simply adjust the format to be based on the area you’re located in.
Make note of the services they provide, size of their team, any reviews/testimonials/recommendations, types of industries they’ve serviced, portfolio quality, etc.
Do this for as many companies you can find online. Then, when you are done with this, reach out to the top 5 or 10 to see how they respond. Those that respond quickly (within a business day, or preferably less than) and do so from a real person (e.g. not an automated email from an email marketing platform) should make your shortlist. We’d recommend having 2-3 on your shortlist to set up interviews with.
Once you have your interviews set up, make sure you’re getting to know the team:
- Does the agency have a good mix of team members?
- Do they sub-contract any of their work (art, copy, development, etc.)?
- Are they personable and easy to talk to?
- Do they answer your questions transparently and honestly (or do they skirt or not seem to know answers to your questions)?
- How do they bill? Are there any unknown costs that may arise?
- What types of KPIs (key performance indicators) would they use for different goals (e.g. how would they measure increasing leads, building brand awareness, etc.)
Essentially, ask all the questions necessary for you to feel really comfortable with who they are, what they offer you, and what you can expect with regards to time, investments, etc.
3. Strategy, Deliverables and Adjustments
As with agency pricing, how agencies offer their services and deliverables will change dramatically as well. The way the today’s world works has changed drastically, even from 5 years ago. Marketing tactics, target audiences, and the effectiveness of your efforts will all fluctuate over time, and some more quickly than others.
Because of this, you must make sure that the agency you partner with can adjust as needed throughout your contracted engagement. If a goal is to generate leads and your planned Twitter strategy isn’t working to accomplish that, will they [agency partner] be able to pivot to adjust the strategy to try something different that will work?
Ask them how they will handle challenging scenarios, and what the possible cost implications of campaign adjustments may be, if any. This will help you ensure you have a partner who will be working alongside you, rather than someone who’s trying to fit you into “their way of doing things”, similar to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It will also help you establish appropriate expectations with regards to possible unknowns that might arise, and how they will be handled by the agency.
4. Short-term vs. Long-term Partnerships
In very rare instances, an organization may only need an agency to help them with a single campaign. This doesn’t happen often, and when it does, generally they’ll already have an agency partner that they’ve worked with previously to help them with it.
Marketing isn’t a pre-packaged set of things that will automagically work for everyone. For example, not every company is going to benefit from someone who gives them a 3-month marketing package that includes 2 blog posts, 3 tweets, and 2 Facebook posts per month.
Marketing takes time. Getting to know a business inside and out can take time. If you expect your agency partner to just know you from day one and deliver incredible results, you’re setting both yourself and your partner up to fail.
Think about hiring an agency as if you were hiring a new employee; you need to enable them to do great work for you. As long as the agency you partner with is capable and credible, the results you get from helping them in the right way will come back to you in multiples.
Additionally, most results from digital marketing do not show right away. Similar to SEO, which is just one of many digital marketing tactics, it can take time to reap the rewards of your labor.
Often, we recommend 6-12 month contracts so that the strategies can be developed, buy-in from internal stakeholders can be won, and efforts can be designed, built, launched and measured. For some, less time is needed; for many, months worth of time can be required to make the moves online necessary to attain the goals set.
Think about hiring an agency as if you were hiring a new employee; you need to enable them to do great work for you.
So, we really recommend seeking a partnership that is more of a long-term engagement, rather than a short-term one.
If you do your due diligence and make your decision beyond just the “costs” of the service, you’ll be one step ahead in the game. Remember, marketing isn’t an expense for your business, it’s an investment that you will make returns on if you choose your partner wisely. Another way to think about it is like an investment in a new employee – if you put the time and effort into picking the right one, the return you get will be in multiples.
Have you hired an agency to help you with your digital marketing before? If so, what was your experience like? Any thoughts or additions you think should be included as considerations? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re looking for a digital marketing agency partner, and would like to learn more about how Regal can help, get in touch today!