Here’s the time:
As someone who runs an agency themselves, I wanted to walk through my nonsense guide on what to look for if you’re looking for an agency partner.[Full disclaimer – if as a consequence I exclude my own agency – that’s ok – that means there’s clearly sh*t we need to work upon].
Let’s quickly begin with some higher-level considerations:
The Pros and Cons Of Hiring A Marketing Agency
Some of you might wonder – ‘why not take it inhouse?’
What ARE the actual benefits of hiring a marketing agency?
There are several reasons why comparing the two entails two totally different mindsets –
Taking in-house assumes you want to build long-term IP in marketing within your company (which is actually a great thing).
This is possibly challenging because (and here we’ll talk about the cons of hiring someone internal):
- Finding the right person to run this takes time
- Marketing as a discipline is SO vast that ‘one person’ can’t do it all – certainly not well
- Firing someone is more complicated than firing an agency
- Your ‘wealth of knowledge’ is limited to that specific person
- That ‘person’ can’t leverage agency resources and economies of scale
You can probably guess the inverse of this – i.e the benefits of hiring an agency:
- You can hire/fire faster
- You can get multiple specialists in ‘one house’ with an agency – e.g SEO as an area has multiple specialisms within it
- You can avoid simple costs like paying for tools
- No ‘sunk-time’ in training/managing someone internally – you’ve gone out and hired experts
- £ for £ or $ for $ – it works out much cheaper than an internal hire
Now the cons of hiring a marketing agency are as you might expect in that they might fail, might rip you off, might have exorbitant costs and generally might be a total and utter waste of time.
Don’t worry lol – being an agency owner myself I’ve got your back.
Here’s what I’d consider to be the BEST practices when it comes to hiring a marketing agency:
What Questions To Ask Yourself When Hiring An Agency?
o out of the gate – I think the most important thing to consider is throwing away this notion of ‘The Cobbler’s Shoes’.
This builds upon the idea that agencies, or indeed any service provider – is so busy servicing their own clients that they have no time to work on their own brand.
How Are They Branding Themselves?
I think this is a load of garbage and shows poor operational procedures.
An agency that is solely focussed upon building just their clients sites and none of their own immediately (in my mind) raise these questions:
- Are you not doing well enough that you have no budget to work on your own brand growth?
- Do you operationally not have enough capacity to commit even one person spending a couple of hours a week building your own brand?
What I still find weird is that at Pearl Lemon – we get OTHER agencies actually approaching us to help them with their marketing.
NOW – to be clear – I DON’T mean software development companies and the like (that’s very different) – I mean actual marketing agencies seeking support with their own marketing.
Who Are Their Stakeholders?
Any company I can’t figure out who the people that run it are – and ‘what’ they’re about – is probably a company that hasn’t been around very long.
Now to some degree that’s possible ‘no bad thing’.
I don’t mind a company that’s new – because what you’re ultimately looking for is ‘can you trust this company’s people and their expertise?
A good example is something that is a weakness within Pearl Lemon.
Our key stakeholders:
I’ve not done enough to build out their brands. So when you’re trying to find out identifying information about these people – it’s difficult to find out more about them.
I’ve obviously done it with myself (although at this rate I probably need more marketing content up who knows) – but not enough with the rest of the team. But this is definitely something you should dig into.
It just takes a quick googling to figure it out –
- What names (if any) are mentioned on their ‘meet the team’ type pages
- What happens when you look these folks up (on Instagram/LinkedIn/Google search)
That’ll be a good insight into the companies general skill level.
Furthermore, if you can identify how long their stakeholders have been involved (either via companies house if you’re in the UK) – or just looking at them in general –
It’ll give you a solid and fast sense of who’s involved, how long they’ve been involved – and how much experience they have in their niche in general
Are They Active Online?
For a marketing agency – I think it’s pretty important they function a little bit like a startup – and one ‘easy’ barometer of this is:
Are they active on social media?
This can be really at any level you choose.
For example in mine/Pearl Lemon’s instance:
- I blog regularly
- The company blog is active
- Our YouTube is active
- As is my YouTube
Between all of those spaces – it’s enough to demonstrate that we’re obviously active in our space – and I’d look to see some signs that a healthy and stable agency you’re potentially looking to hire have the same thing
What About Their Public Reputation?
Now, this is something that an agency should have plastered online when you ‘Google’ their brand name.
I.e if you google ‘Pearl Lemon’ or ‘Deepak Shukla’ what is it that you see?
Immediate impressions of course count for everything –
But don’t just stop there.
We’re on the hunt for a couple of things:
1. Positive reviews:
2. of positive reviews:
And here’s the important part that sometimes folks missed:
3. Negative reviews:
I’ll talk about negative reviews a bit further now:
I’m on the hunt for ‘the presence’ of negative reviews. I’m a great believer in the EXISTENCE of them. I’d find it very manipulative that a company such as Pearl Lemon or indeed anyone else can have 100+ positive reviews and then ZERO negative reviews.
(We’ve got 5 negative reviews).
Once I’ve found them I’d look for a couple of other things:
- When they were posted?
- Is there any pattern to them?
- Has the business responded to the reviews?
- Does the businesses response seem appropriate?
- Do the negative reviews ‘feel/seem’ legitimate?
- When was the most recent review posted?
As long as this all seems to add up and/or there is nothing majorly alarming here – I’d consider this to actually be a positive.
I’ve seen companies with 100+ positive reviews and not a single negative one before and I know they’re very on top of their negative review suppression – which is good I guess but also bad.
Too perfect is imperfect 😛
Micro Analysis Of Their Public Reputation
So this builds upon what we’ve just discussed above – and it’s a good way to consider all of the reviews/content they have online.
As you ‘click-scroll-click’ through different aspects of their online branding + online reputation – you want to look out for:
- How many reviews are left by someone who you can identify as a real person
- Of these real people how many are ‘random Joe’s’ versus actual businesses
- When reading the reviews themselves how many feel ‘real’ versus ‘bogus’ versus ‘written by someone else’
This is all-important when analysing B2B reviews – because for the most part these reviews are solicited.
Despite many review sites Terms of Service – b2b companies need to chase happy clients for reviews in order to bolster their reputation.
With this in mind – take ANYTHING you read with a pinch of salt.
What About Their Case Studies?
This will also come up in the review process – that you should ‘scan’ and identify solid reviews from people who look to be clients.
But you want to dig deeper as well as identify the following:
- Do they have case studies on their website?
- Do they have case studies on third party websites?
- Do they have case studies over an extended period of time?
How In-Depth/Believable Are Their Case Studies?
So, in combination with the existence of case studies – there’s another element to consider. Case studies – as with anything – are pretty easy to fake.
E.g How many are specific? How many show ACTUAL data versus talking about the data?
Looking at what specifically is revealed versus what is spoken about is an important part of this narrative
What About Interview Testimonials w/Current/Former Clients?
This is what I would consider being the holy grail of figuring out whether a company is legitimate or not.
How many videos from clients can you see?
Actual sit down interviews where the business owner/marketing director/someone of importance is talking to you.
These are difficult to come by and demonstrate in my view of real legitimacy.
Especially if you’re then able to look that person up – see they have a real audit trail and if you wish to – get in contact with them.
Writing this post has actually inspired me to amass the video interviews WE have – of which there are 9.
Pre-Call Due Diligence
So these are all of the things you can do before you even speak with an agency which is the beautiful part.
Judging an agency through all of the indices above will leave you with a select range of agencies that have gone through the true gauntlet of due diligence.
Judged by these metrics it’ll whittle down your list of 10/20 into 3-5 ideally.
Then it’s a case of running a quick comparative analysis based upon the average output of all of the above metrics.
And THEN – ‘engaged due diligence’ can begin:
Contacting The Agency To Test For Responsiveness
I’m a great believer in the truth that ‘the way you do one thing – is the way you do everything’.
So if you’ve whittled down 3-7 agencies – you can at this stage do a number of things.
- You can email them all with the same standard message which could go something along the lines of ‘having run my initial due diligence you and X other agencies have made my shortlist I’d love to book a call with you or receive some general information
- Book a call directly with them
- Submit a general contact us enquiry
- Send them an RFP (request for a proposal) outlining all of the things you’re looking for
Running Document/Call Due Diligence
Depending upon the format you choose – you may have determined enough from your initial due diligence run to have decided there’s a couple of agencies you’d like to talk to – and outside of this you’re not AS interested in seeing company slide decks etc.
In my personal opinion – I’d certainly ask for some general company information and see how quickly they send back something IF they send back something – and the quality of what they send back
What I’ve done with Pearl Lemon is to try and make this due diligence process as easily accessible via the website as possible –
We’ve got a dedicated ‘evidence’ section for anyone who wants to dig deeper:
And then outside of that we ALSO have slide decks and further information to send over to folks should they need it.
Conducting Your Initial Call With The Agency
Now depending upon your time/inclination – you may have done some/none/all of the steps above – but it’s still to some degree worth reasking/reconfirming some of the things you’ve seen online.
In many cases – there might be a couple of things that you need clarification on OR the evidence you have found online/have been sent isn’t QUITE tightly correlated enough with the specifics of your enquiry.
But getting a feel for:
- The salesrep/person you’re talking to
- Experience they have with your particular usecase the better
- What working with them will be like
General Due Diligence Questions
On calls – here would be the gamut of questions I tend to ask:
- How many current clients can you introduce that are most like me?
- What case studies can you tell me about right now that are similar to my specific niche?
- Talk me through general communication with your agency?
- Who will be assigned my account? What is THEIR experience? What can you tell me about them? Can I meet them?
- What does onboarding look like with you?
What guarantees can you give me?
Ideal answers will be in the affirmative for all – but ultimately looking at the WAY the person responds – how CONFIDENTLY they respond and whether they have reasonable answers for all of these pieces is important.
Analysing Their Proposal For Your Business
So once you’ve spoken to your shortlist of agencies – you’ll likely have asked for a proposal.
And here’s where some further due diligence comes in:
- How much research have they done for your specific use case?
- How much of the proposal is cookie-cutter and how much is personalised?
- How detailed is their technical documentation which walks you through the process?
- Is there any additional video explanations to support the literature you read?
As you can see – I’m pretty damn anal when it comes to making a judgement call about who to work with and I hope it’s with good reason.
90% of the agencies I come across would fail this measure of due diligence – but (hopefully) the logic stands – that the one’s STILL standing would ultimately all be pretty decent.
Then it’ll just come down to budget, and preferred agency/style etc.
So – I hope this guide helps in your journey of success with finding a marketing agency you can hire to work with over the long-term.