Selecting a great marketing, advertising, creative, Internet or social media agency partner can be tricky for several reasons. First, there are so many agencies in any geographic area, coupled with different specialities and sizes. Second, it can be difficult to assess non-quantifiable skills like  creativity, or assess new and unfamiliar requirements like search engine optimization.  Third, it is easy to be subjective and hire the agency with a slick presentation.  Or hire the hot shots that pitch, only to get assigned inexperienced youngsters that drive your marketing into the ground.

Now consider the fact that making the wrong marketing agency selection can be expensive, embarrassing, or even jeopardize your career!  Also, please do consider that a majority of  marketing managers do not have experience with marketing agency selection.

To help you navigate this important decision, your friends at the Modern Marketing University provide several marketing agency selection tips including key reasons for both firing and hiring new agencies, along with a 3-Step marketing agency selection process with several actions. And finally, we share some additional resources on the subject.

Depending on internal staff resources, at some point your marketing department may require the skills and expertise of a marketing agency or consultant.  In fact, the need for a qualified agency may be more pronounced than ever with the marketing mix evolving from traditional tactics like advertising and trade shows, to more emphasis on Internet marketing, search optimization and social media.

Another typical scenario is the need to replace an existing agency for one or more reasons identified below. Modern Marketing University surveyed a number of industry professionals and identified key reasons for firing and hiring an agency.

Reasons for firing a marketing agency:

1) Agency advice is weak (marketing, strategy, creative)
2) Disputes about agency fees, or excessive fees
3) Lacking sales results
4) Agency is not in tune with new media (SEO, social, blogging, etc)
5) Agency hired by prior manager

Reasons for hiring a marketing agency:

1) Specialist needed for a specific marketing project
2) Get fresh ideas for marketing
3) Want a new partner that can achieve results
4) New managers/management not tied to old partners

As in everything, due diligence can help prevent the former scenario and make the latter a success. There are several avenues that will lead you to potential agency candidates. One of the best is through referrals or networking. Searching online can net a lot of names, but narrow down your list by reviewing results-oriented case studies on agency sites. Or, if you have the budget, you can hire an agency search firm to help you. Following are 3 important steps to effective marketing agency selection

Agency Selection Tips – Step 1:  Establish Selection Criteria

  • Realistically assess your budget vs. agency size (make sure your account is in top 3 or so to ensure attention)
  • Determine if category or industry expertise is critical
  • Decide which marketing skills are important (creative, internet, direct, PR, etc)
  • Consider location. Are meetings on-site or online?
  • If you have an in-house marketing department, think about how an agency will work with it and augment it
  • Create a mini SWOT analysis to determine what your new agency can leverage and/or improve

Agency Selection Tips – Step 2:  Identify and Vet Agency Candidates

  • Depending on the scale of your marketing program and/or budget, compare 5-10 or more agency candidates that fit your criteria and review their websites and other collateral thoroughly – ask for case studies!
  • Make contact with the most promising candidates and set-up phone interviews
  • Send a written request for proposal (RFP) to agency candidates who did well in the phone interviews
  • Conduct on-site visits and/or request agency presentations from a shortlist of agency candidates that did well with RFP responses
  • Request the team that will be working on your account be in the presentation—get to know them ahead of time!
  • Ask for typical fees or budget parameters for the types of marketing projects and programs you will be assigning
  • Ask for (and call) client references for projects or assignments similar to yours
  • Recruit a selection committee that, depending on program scale, is at least 2 and no more than 5 managers
  • Use a scorecard or ranking of 5-10 criteria to add objectivity, but also consider your “gut” instincts

Agency Selection Tips – Step 3:  Select Your Agency!

Once you’ve reached this stage, be sure to have internal discussions with your selection committee. While committee members should rank or score agency candidates individually to avoid a dominant personality imposing his or her will, committee members should openly share their results and reasoning.

This group meeting and process should deliver the clear winner. However, if it’s down to two viable choices, invite them to duke it out by executing the same test project. We recommend paying a set fee for the test project. Then, evaluate them based on responsiveness, strategy and ideas, creative execution, project management and budget.

May the best marketing agency win!

Be sure to check out our full guide: The Definitive Guide to Marketing Agency Selection.

Other great agency selection resources:

  1. Inc. – How to Choose an Advertising Agency
  2. Business Marketing Institute – How to Select a New Ad Agency or Marketing Consultant

Be sure to share this with others who are seeking a new marketing agency or looking to replace their existing one. Let us know additional tips you have on choosing a marketing agency in the comment box below!