Part 1 of the series Hiring a marketing agency: what you should expect (and what you shouldn’t)
Hiring a marketing agency can be a leap in the dark.
The budget, the results, the communications, the expectations: a complex process that most likely will get you lost.
Well, we’ve got you sorted: this is the first episode of our guide on “Hiring a Marketing Agency: what you should expect (and what you shouldn’t).
We are a digital agency ourselves, however, we have been on the client’s side as much as on the agencies’ one.
Also, we have seen clients coming to us after a burning disappointment with another one. The truth here is: it’s not always our competitor’s fault.
Hence, the reason for this series: to put all cards on the table and explore what to expect and what not to expect when hiring a digital agency.
We’ll cover everything: from the interpersonal to the communications side of things; from the expected results to financial matters; from tips on how to overcome the first decisions to practical handouts on how to write a marketing brief.
We’ll even include a cheat-sheet.
There might be different reasons why you are reading this article.
Maybe you’ve noticed that your sales are stagnant, or you might feel you don’t have enough digital communications skills; maybe you have too much workload or simply marketing is not your thing.
We’ll keep our perspective wide and try to address all the challenges you may be facing and smoothen your process of hiring the right marketing agency for you.
First thing, a question you must ask yourself before hiring anyone:
“Is a digital agency the right choice for me?”
That’s right. When you require marketing and communications functions for your company, you usually can find help through a) hiring a freelancer; b) hiring an agency; c) insourcing, namely hiring new internal team members or delegating to existing ones. An in-between position is hiring a consultant. If you want to insource, but you don’t have enough budget, this professional figure can function as a guide to develop the activity you require. So, what’s the right choice for you?
To help you answer this first tricky question, let’s consider two variables:
- your type of business
- the operational activity/project you require.
And these sub-variables:
- your budget
- whether or not the type of project you require is your core activity.
By intertwining the first two variables, we have come up with this table:
Let’s break this down into five takeaways.
If it’s core: Do-it-yourself or hire a consultant.
A core tenet of business strategy is: you should never outsource core activities. Outsourcing trends have come and gone, but this principle is here to stay. For example, if you have a startup, you should never completely outsource growth hacking functions. Because, usually, the only and sole goal of your first years is “ to grow”, hence it would almost be a paradox to outsource it.
A good feasible solution here, in terms of both strategy and budget, is to hire a consultant specialized in the area you need to tackle. Such professional figure can guide you through and help you develop the work you require. If you have several core projects going on, you might feel tempted to completely outsource some. Don’t get us wrong, you can, and you should if the workload is unbearable.
However, big but here: be extra careful on how you choose the professionals you work with. You might end up lowering your standards or, in worse cases, hindering your reputation at the very core of your expertise area.
Web design: agencies (usually) do it better.
Building a corporate website, however small, is a serious project that comes with great responsibilities. Depending on what you do, at the very least, a website is your digital business card; at most, it’s your major tool to sell your products and services, to generate precious leads and to drive direct revenue. Then, the dilemma: who’s going to build your website? Here the options:
- doing it yourself with a site-builder platform like Wix, Strikingly, Squarespace and the like.
- hiring a freelancer to build it for you with one of the above platforms or using a CMS like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
- hiring an agency to build it with the framework that best fits your needs.
How to choose? If you are a small company on a tight budget and an online page is not core for your activity, a site-builder can serve you right. Hiring a freelancer to help you can be a choice or you can learn how to do it yourself: with the framework set up, the page will look good enough. However, the downside: your page will never look unique.
Due to the intrinsic constraints of pre-built frameworks, your website will feel like a “seen before” and will lack important functionalities, like testing and users tracking.
The user experience will be ok, but never interesting or tailored to your users’ needs. A freelancer can help you do a more sophisticated job. However, it’s hard to find a professional with the broad skill set required to build a website: design, coding, UX design, 3rd party services integrations, SEO, tracking and reporting, just to mention few. This will result in a website that, while perhaps fitting your aesthetic requirements, is not what your users need and what will get traction to your sales.
This is where the versatility of agencies comes handy and fundamental. A serious one won’t only ask you how you want your website to be designed, but also, and most of all, who are your users, what are their goals and what are yours, which journey usually brings them to your page.
Who are your competitors and how does your offer differ from theirs.
They may even ask you what your business model is, what are your vision and mission, what gets you up every morning as a founder, a manager or a CEO.
The answers you’ll give has a huge impact on how your website will be designed. Because building a website is not about throwing some code online, it is about creating a tailored solution to a problem.
Marketing strategy: keep it for yourself. However…
From a strategic point of view, every function within a company can be outsourced except for the communications strategy.
However, if you find the right marketing partners, their input into your corporate strategy could be of very high value. True, no one knows the client better than you do – or should! Yet, agencies’ familiarity with the communications channels and their experience with other companies in your sector can be turned into strategic gold. That’s right, it could give you a tangible advantage over your competitors.
Be careful with your budget, but be aware of what you’ll get.
Money, money, money: budget here plays a major role. If you have enough budget, you may consider insourcing the marketing functions. Advantages of this choice: you keep managing and evolving the strategy within your team. Yet, you have to first train the new team members: this costs time and resources. Also, insourcing the strategy might lead to miss market opportunities that outsider players might be better aware of.
If you want to keep your budget low, you might choose to hire a freelancer. Good in terms of cost, flexibility and timely execution, but risky in terms of strategic thinking, as a freelancer usually focuses on its niche area of expertise to get the job done fast. In such process, sometimes, the strategic and values alignment ends up being overlooked.
Do you need more than 2-3 activities? Get yourself an agency.
Two key points on this one. Versatility – the ability to tackle different areas of work – is what mainly differentiates agencies from other professional figures. So, for example, if you need branding, web design and content, the answer is yes: an agency is the right choice for you.
Moreover, and here is the second crucial point, agencies have a strategic mind of their own. It has a core reasoning that guides all its operational marketing and communications activities. Indeed, the best agencies are the ones that can be your strategic partners. Strategy and value alignment give a cohesive outlook to the activities you require, and, ultimately, a firm brand positioning to your company.
Remember: those are not strict rules, but simply interpretations taken from our professional experience. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.
To conclude, a last yet fundamental tip: Trust yourself. Trust is the cornerstone of every business relationship. Besides having a strategic and versatile brain, agencies are generally trustworthy. It has its own brand identity and history, a reputation and client portfolio to preserve. Trust their experience, but, most importantly, trust yourself. And we are talking about every business or professional relationship here. If these are not your first steps in the field, trust your past experience too, but stay open to new perspectives.
Be honest with yourself and clear out your true goals and the results you really want to achieve. Without such transparency, a strategic agreement would be difficult and you’ll miss out on good opportunities for your business.