The Business Guide to Choosing the Right Marketing Agency

Written by Marcia Barnes / April 9, 2018 / 7 Minute Read
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Choosing the right marketing agency can be a daunting task. With numerous options available, how do you pick the best fit for your business? This guide delves into setting a budget, understanding the agency’s expertise, and ensuring they align with your company’s values. Make an informed decision and achieve maximum ROI.


Running a business is challenging. We don’t need to tell you what you already know. When you are ready to choose a marketing agency, you need a partner who will work alongside you to accomplish your goals. It really is simple. Too many agencies will try to sell you products and services with the highest margins for them. What you need is the right strategy and right products for you.

Choosing the right partner can accelerate your growth dramatically. Choosing the wrong marketing agency, or trying to do it all yourself, can be costly. If you’ve ever recruited for a Chief Marketing Officer, Marketing Manager, or someone to handle all of your marketing materials, you know how difficult it can be. You’d like him or her to be a sharp strategist, well-versed in traditional and digital marketing, a social media maven, a dynamic graphic artist, a creative writer, and a tenacious and meticulous web developer. Good luck! No one person is an expert in all of those disciplines. A marketing agency, however, can be.

The right marketing agency is an extension of your team: an auxiliary department, or more appropriately, a partner dedicated to your business and subject matter experts in various facets of marketing. Before you start the vetting process, you have some work to do on your part if you want to be efficient.

First, Examine Your Business And Establish Your Goals

What are your own goals and priorities? Are you looking to generate leads? Are you in a transition between generations, technologies, or changes in your marketplace? Is it about freshening up your brand or making sure everybody knows your name? There are lots of methods to attack, and all pathways don’t lead to the same crossroad.

The more information you provide a potential partner in choosing a marketing agency, the more easily you will both be able to pinpoint the strategy you will need to take. If you only have a general idea, that’s okay too. Established agencies have been through the process with a lot of their clients before and know how to approach helping you set the right goals

Then, Think About What You Want In Choosing a Marketing Agency

Give some thought to how you prefer to work and your expectations. Are you more comfortable with someone handling 100% of the load, or would you prefer an adviser guiding you in making smart decisions? You will be investing your time, money and institutional knowledge into this project, so you want to make sure there’s a positive working relationship and a great cultural fit.

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Setting A Budget

In other words, how much is this going to cost? While it’s important to establish a budget, it’s more important to spend the right amount to meet your goals. What you may have seen or read may be misleading.

Just because some channels, like social media, are “free” doesn’t mean they will be effective. It takes experience and know how to optimize these channels and you need to account for this in your budget.

Meaningful and relevant messages targeted to the right people, at the right time through the right channels can take years to finesse. Knowing when to invest in an agency of experts may provide a much-needed boost in comparison to taking on a DIY project with your social media marketing. Consider the amount of money being spent on social media by the world’s top marketers and advertisers…$19.3 billion at last glance.

Setting a budget too early in the process can stifle the creativity and reach. At some point, however, you’ll have to make tough decisions about what you’re willing to spend and the acceptable return on your investment. It’s best to do this in concert with your marketing agency once you’ve all agreed on the goals. Too many times, the budget dictates shortcuts in strategy. You don’t need to write a blank check, you need to be realistic about what it’s going to take to meet your goals. Great marketing is only really expensive when it doesn’t work!

Researching And Choosing a Marketing Agency

It is a good idea to scout out the agency’s website for information. Check out what services they feature most prominently on their site; they are probably ones they’re most confident implementing.

You can find out a lot about a company by who works for them. After all, you are buying into their expertise and need to feel comfortable with the people behind the scenes. Check out the About Us page and read through the bios listed for team members. It should give you a good idea of their backgrounds and the depth of expertise of the people working on your behalf. When it comes to marketing and advertising, many marketers have the same toolsets. The difference is almost always the human factor.

Check Out Potential Marketing Agencies’ Websites

Also pay attention to the website itself. Beyond the listed information, how is the functionality and user experience? Is it easy to find what you want or do you have to hunt for it? Are there – let’s hope not – grammar or typographical errors? Look at the website in several ways: On your desktop, on a tablet, and on a mobile phone. You should be able to tell quickly if they’ve optimized for different platforms as anything they do online for you will need to be performed across different devices.

If you’re unconvinced of the  importance to be fully mobile-optimized, consider these statistics:
• 60% of all internet traffic is now done on a mobile device, according to a study done by CNET.
• 47% of all online purchases start on mobile, according to Google, the world’s dominant search engine.

Make sure it loads quickly as well. Google reports half the websites they examine lose more than half of their visitors before the page finishes loading! The search engine is also using page load as part of its algorithm for placement. Review the agency’s blog and assess its value. Is it current, qualitative and understandable? Does it provide real thought leadership, or does it sound like something they delegated to an intern? All of these are insights into how the company approaches its work. If they can’t get it right for their most important client – themselves – can you trust them to do it correctly for you? When it comes to choosing a marketing agency, trust is critical.

Making Sure The Marketing Agency You Choose Is The Right Fit

What’s the disclaimer they always put on ads for investments? It’s akin to “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” You know a liability statement when you read one. In the area of marketing, an agency’s clients and the results are a pretty good indicator of the quality of the work they do. It’s smart to ask agencies about current and past clients and to show samples of their work. The closer the clients and the results align with what you need, the more confident you will feel.

Not all agencies are alike. Do they focus on start-ups, global corporations or something in between? Agencies can be too big, or too small, depending on the number of clients and type of clients they handle. You want to be confident you’ll receive a proportional amount of time and energy.

Checking out an agency’s portfolio of clients and work will help you find insights. Let’s say you are a financial firm and you discover the agency has worked with similar companies in your industry, it demonstrates experience and knowledge of what it takes to grow similar businesses. If they have a breadth of clients across a diverse set of industries, it can demonstrate the agency’s adaptability and show they can quickly learn what they need about your business.

Once again, it’s about establishing clear expectations right from the beginning. It is important the marketing agency you choose understands both your short-term and long-term goals and the resources to focus on your needs.

Is There A Method To Their Madness?

While marketing can be an art form, success rarely happens accidentally. You may read about an occasional spontaneously viral campaign. It’s exceedingly rare and often not predictable. Imagine how much money major companies spend to attempt viral attention and it never happens!

There should be an underlying, methodical approach to doing things – backed by experience – mitigating risk and increasing your chances of success. A lot of places will brag about their “proprietary process,” and you want to make sure it is not marketing-speak and there’s an actual documented process. You wouldn’t “wing it” with your business success, would you? As in other areas, you should ask for examples of how they work with clients, how they decide what steps to take and when, and how they develop the strategic plan for success.

Transparency Is No Longer Optional

Marc Pritchard has the lofty title of Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble. He’s at the forefront of advertising and marketing at the world’s largest advertiser. He’s driven heavyweights like Google and Facebook to change policies and adapt. So, when he announced he was putting all of P&G’s agency business on notice, you can imagine his words carried some weight. Pritchard has some advice on what needs to be paramount in the business-agency relationship: Transparency.

You should know exactly what you’re getting, what you’re paying for, and how the agency is doing it. You should know the process, the strategy, and the outcomes. You should have a clear understanding of both your role, and the agency’s role, in the process.

12 Questions To Ask In Choosing a Marketing Agency

When it comes to choosing a marketing agency, consider using these 12 questions as a guideline to finding out what you need to know.

1. Who owns the account?

If this sounds simple, it’s not. Are projects done on your behalf in your name and transferable to you or another partner or is it locked in a  proprietary system you won’t be able to access? It depends on how much control you want, or need, and you need to weigh the pros and cons of each.

For example, some businesses learned the hard way what can happen when vendors offer to “take care of it for you” and put the URL in the vendor’s own name. It may feel convenient, by putting it in their name instead of yours, yet it locks you to them. If you part ways, you’ll lose your URL, the brand equity and the SEO you’ve built.

2. Who owns the content?

If the answer is anything else, except YOU, you should consider going elsewhere. While the agency produces the work, the content is a product belonging to you. It’s yours and you should be able to use it as you wish from then on unless you’ve agreed to something else in writing.

3. What level of access do I have to the data and reporting?

Some agencies provide a portal to monitor 24/7. Others will give you access on-demand or prepare reports. It depends on your comfort level. Transparency is best. Some agencies will use its own third-party vendors and “mark up” the costs and they won’t necessarily broadcast the difference. It’s not wrong to mark up materials or services – after all, there is a cost to the agency. They’ve vetted the vendor, they’re handling the administration, sometimes “fronting the payment” and they’re allowed to make a profit – you should know exactly what the markup is up front.

4. How am I being charged? What’s it cost?

This is really one of the central questions. Is it a flat rate? Is it a percentage? Is it based on volume? Regardless, get agreement on the fees up front so there are no surprises. Valve+Meter is a “performance marketing agency,” meaning clients are not billed according to the activities or projects performed.

Instead, compensation agreements are built on customer acquisition target goals. Understand how you’re being billed, whether you will receive invoices, whether there will be multiple invoices (vendors and agency), and grace periods. Do they offer credit terms and if so, is there a charge?

5. Who will manage my campaign and how often will someone touch it?

What is the account manager’s background and experience? Agencies typically employ business development executives who meet with prospects and negotiate agreements. The day to day work of the account, once it’s a client, is assigned to a member of the account management team. So, who is this person? Have you met them? What level of access will you have to your account supervisor and how often will they be working on your campaign?

Depending on the account size and needs, teams of professionals specializing in different disciplines may be working on a campaign so it’s important to know your contact. Your account executive is your liaison to the creative and execution team so it’s imperative to establish a strong working relationship with this person.

He or she will be responsible for conveying your wants and needs to the rest of the team so take the time to share as much of your business goals and challenges as possible. Make the most of regular communication, by phone or meetings, so the agency can execute on your behalf.

6. Do you do the work yourself or outsource it to a third-party?

What technology partners do you use? Nearly every agency is using at least some third-parties to fulfill certain portions of their marketing campaigns. Who they don’t work with is just as important as who they do. For example, one well-known vendor has a great engine for optimizing campaigns for Google and Yahoo, but they aren’t set up to handle Bing yet. With Google dominating search, it may not matter to you.

However, if you want to dominate search across all platforms, including Microsoft Bing (21% market share), it might. Neither approach is incorrect; it depends on your goals and what you are trying to achieve. What’s important is you know going in when choosing a marketing agency.

7. How will you measure success?

Set up clear goals right from the start so you can measure success. Is it conversions and ROI? Is it visits to your site or your store? Is it branding? Is it visits to your website or landing page? Meeting those specific goals are the measure of any campaign’s success.

8. What reporting do you do and how often?

What’s most important is to understand what’s provided and measure against your expectations.

9. What do you do to optimize and make sure I’m getting the best bang for the buck?

How often is someone taking a look at your campaigns and making sure they are working at peak efficiency?

10. Do you comply with industry-acceptable practices?

What certifications do you have? The Interactive Advertising Bureau is an independent organization contributing guidelines and establishing best practices accepted and embraced by top agencies and advertisers online. Make sure your agency knows and follows industry-standard protocols.

11. What other marketing solutions do you offer?

Naturally, you want to know the breadth of knowledge and services they provide, and you should understand how else they might serve you if you need it. Again, it comes down to establish clear goals, transparent pricing and expectations.

12. What do you do differently (and better) than everybody else?

Obviously, this gives them a chance to brag a little bit, and you need to understand why you should work with them versus anybody else. The difference in success or failure is often the people working on your account and doing the work, so you need to be confident they’re the right fit.

Choosing a Marketing Agency: Accountable Marketing & Transformational Growth

This may look and sound like a lot of work. It is. Making a mistake will create even more work and likely cost you time and opportunity. Make sure you establish the ground rules up front and make the right decision. It is not just about picking an agency. You can always pick a new one, right?

It’s about YOUR BUSINESS success and nobody will take it as seriously as you will. Regard this as selecting a partner, not a vendor.

Are you looking for Accountable Marketing and Transformational Growth? Consider Valve+Meter Performance Marketing for your marketing needs. Click here for a Free Gap Analysis from Valve+Meter.

A Gap Analysis involves the comparison of actual performance against the potential or desired performance. Conducting a high-level analysis of your company’s digital assets and competitive landscape, Valve+Meter will identify actionable opportunities for your business.