How to Evaluate Marketing Agencies
I’ve worked for at least 4 digital marketing agencies throughout the US and Canada, and believe me, they have their limits. Some were good at what they did specifically, in particular industries they knew, and provided good value.
Others however were skewed by strange goals and business models. For instance, one digital marketing agency insisted on incorporating cheap East Indian providers into the mix.
The ultimate value they worshipped was to leverage cheap labor in India. Unfortunately, the quality of service and results failed. It wasn’t that India was bad, it’s that they couldn’t deliver the quality needed and they were difficult to work with. They didn’t transfer much value to other team members. In another case, Indian coders were hired and the sites got hacked! Not a great outcome. They’ve since gone out of business.
Empowered Agencies and the Loyalty Factor
Some agencies are great. Their work in design, coding, and paid advertising is impressive and they have industry expert consultants on hand to give you a big edge. That’s a nice business advantage. Yet there are perils.
You need agencies/consultants who will stick with you. They will be building valuable expertise in your business and you need to know that won’t be wasted and end up serving your competitors. Your competitors are smart and they can win with some military inspired marketing strategy at your expense.
As part of your growth plan, you have to measure the potential productivity, weaknesses, issues, compatibility and their willingness to stick it through thick and thin. Because marketing is a battleground.
Loyalty is tested through the tough times. Covid recessions happen, competitors give you a beating, yet you need to resume your march to market leadership. Whether you’re in San Diego, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver, Denver, Dallas or San Francisco, it’s competitive. A top flight mid-sized digital marketing agency may have some good resources, at least to get you started. It’s in the growth phase that things might collapse.
Of course, that’s why clients evaluate their digital marketing agency’s performance. That’s after the fact. What you need is a process using key criteria where you can determine ahead of time what the issues/weaknesses might be, and what truly outstanding skills and talent they posses. They may be very skilled at video production, SEO strategy, copywriting, or performance metric analysis and more. And they could take you away from your core competency and ruin your brand.
A Right-Brained Process for Selection
In the business world, smart business owners and investors often rely on intuition to make decisions. They know stats and marketing lie. What they’re actually doing is collecting accurate views of value first before any kind of analytical process begins. If left-brained thinking comes in too early, it ruins the evaluation. Call it gut feelings, intuition, or enlightenment, your emotional intelligence is a good manager.
Still, it can fail too.
Is your marketing agency powered up for growth? Do you have a system/strategy to solve your unique challenging needs? No marketing or advertising agency is perfect and they certainly won’t deliver everything listed in this agency evaluation chart below. It’s almost certain you will need to pull in an Advanced SEO strategist, occasional coder or graphic designer, analytics and conversion optimizer, and that must be productive. There will be friction and uncooperativeness and that could be the most significant factor of all. Because talent decommissioned will return mediocre results.
Yes, we need a unique method of researching, finding, evaluating, and decision making before hiring a marketing agency. Most checklists and decision systems have a built in prejudice that favors big agencies (e.g., more clients and more services is better). Instead, we can list the evaluation criteria and force ourselves to examine each issue and how it affects the business. You might call this a defensive tactic that fends off poor selection processes and “best practices” errors.
Orchestrating the Marketing Service Pieces
In hiring a collection of small business consultants, you must evaluate how each provider’s services will mesh with and empower the others. Your network of talent must add value to the collective. When value isn’t delivered to the others, it will be tough to grow and improve. It’s like a roadblock or a drawbridge that is up allowing no flow of business information to cross.
Will your selected digital marketing agency in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, or San Francisco work with specialists? Often they won’t. Big agencies want to control work and the budget and bring it all under their umbrella — even if that’s the worst decision possible. Outsiders are left out in the cold and that could cripple your marketing.
The point ultimately is how much expertise, skill and desire they possess to make your company successful. Focus on skills and limits, because when they hit their self-imposed limits, there is no more. More funding could allow them to ramp it up considerably, but do they really have the skills to extend into unfamiliar territory?
Ultimately, it’s the quality of the deliverables that is key, but how much will each agency charge for this service? You can only buy what you can afford, and this is why a rating system is so important. A focus on the key, mission critical objectives is essential. If any provider can extend high level services to you.
Marketing Agency Evaluation Chart
Beyond tactics and techniques, we need a general main evaluation chart that lets us see the big picture. Diving into details will skew your judgement. Step back and evaluate each of these with a low, medium or high rating. No numbers because you don’t want to involve the left side of your brain yet. Big picture items only!
|Marketing Agency Comparison Chart – Agency Rating|
|Is there alignment and fit with your business?|
|Can you motivate or empower them to perform better?|
|Expert marketing strategy|
|Deep, thorough marketing analysis|
|Impactful, informative, analytics expertise and ROI measurement|
|Expert Level SEO Services|
|Expert level content production (blogs, eBooks, webinars, whitepapers, case studies, etc)|
|Sophisticated high level content|
|% of Budget dedicated to content marketing|
|Specialized Industry expertise?|
|Expert level brand consulting|
|Accessible and responsive contact to you?|
|Are they transparent in their business and fees?|
|Amp and template design|
|ppc campaign strategy|
|Budget uses paid media exclusively|
|Thorough social media marketing|
|level of social engagement|
|Expert marketing strategy|
|Boutique Agency with Relevant Expertise|
|Work automation platform?|
|Ready for AI software adoption?|
|Full service agency?|
|Which Services are Mission Critical?|
|Client conflict of interest?|
|Size of Retainer Fee?|
|Are they powerful?|
Hopefully, this collection of tips, techniques and strategy will help you improve your decision making. Even the best business owners and entrepreneurs lose their bearings. After all, marketers are trying to control your bearings. Please review the posts on Military strategy for marketing as it’s a masterpiece, great reading for anyone considering hiring a digital marketing agency.
Hopefully, with good guidance, you’ll assemble to team of gifted marketing specialists for remarkable performance at a much more effective cost. The funds you save can be channeled to solutions such as AI software and immersive content that can take you to another level.
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