Questions to Ask When Hiring a Marketing Company

mRELEVANCE If you’re looking for help marketing your company and/or products or services, there are many benefits to hiring a marketing agency. A professional marketing company can provide overall strategic direction, expertise and resources, as well as fresh perspective and insight into your customers, products and business. With a marketing agency, you don’t have to manage the day-to-day duties of project execution, management and administration and you get top-level marketing professionals with a wide-range of skills and knowledge who can creatively and efficiently execute a successful marketing program. However, there is much to consider when hiring a marketing company; here are 13 lucky questions that you should ask of every prospective agency before making a decision about which to choose.

1.    How long have you been in the business?
A good number of ambitious marketers set out on their own, ready to blaze trails without the burden of any superiors and launch their own marketing companies. A couple of years go by and they’re forced to close the doors on their struggling small businesses. You don’t want to have to deal with finding a new company in eighteen months, but more importantly, you want a company with longevity because it shows that they must be doing something right to be able to stay in business. Their years’ of business experience and know-how will benefit your company; they will have experience with what works and will be able to offer a learned perspective and understanding of your business goals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about half of all businesses make it to the five-year mark; choose a company that has been in business for at least five years for the best assurance that you have a team that will be around for the long haul.

2.    Do you have a degree in marketing or are you self-taught?
You wouldn’t see a doctor who never studied medicine, right? In general, we use attainment of a college degree as a filtering tool – those with a degree put forth time, effort and study into the profession; however, we all know that having a degree isn’t the same thing as being good at what you do. Someone who doesn’t have a college degree but does have years of relevant experience may likely be more qualified to run your marketing program, provided that they are current and active in the industry (see below).

3.    Do you take any continuing education or training?
For marketing and sub-categories of marketing (like public relations and graphic design), there are many local and national associations that offer continuing education. There are also many industry-specific local and national associations that offer training on how to market specific products or services. Continuing education should be a priority for the team that you choose. If the company you are interviewing places an importance on professional growth, you know that they will be able to provide insight on the latest trends in the industry and deliver a marketing program that is current.

4.    How do you stay current on trends?
Find out how your prospective firm stays abreast of the latest trends; they should be taking advantage of continuing education opportunities offered through membership in professional associations as well as reading/following industry magazines and blogs and following companies like theirs (and like yours!) to see what others are doing.

5.    Who makes up your team?
Understand the make-up of the firm you are interviewing. Each agency is different, and it is important for you to know who will be available to work on your account and what each of them bring to the table. Ask about the experience and strengths of each individual team member. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these folks, so be sure to choose a team that you like and feel comfortable communicating with.

6.    Who is my contact person?  Do different individuals handle print media, social media, events, design, etc.?
Each marketing agency distributes work and manages work flow differently; find out how your account will be handled. In many firms, you will see a hierarchical structure with an account executive as your primary point of contact. This person is responsible for delegating the work on your account to other individuals in the agency. Your account manager will be someone who is an effective communicator and is good at keeping the ball running on your account. He or she will handle communication and workflow with the members on your team, and may not actually do the graphic design work/copywriting/social media posting on your account. It makes sense from an agency perspective to have employees who specialize in different areas, but you shouldn’t be the person responsible for managing who is doing what and when – this is why you need a strong account manager that you can trust to ensure that your work is completed satisfactorily and on time.

7.    Will I have direct contact with the creative designer?  If not, what assurances do I have that my requests are communicated effectively?
After reading the above, you may think that you will not have access to the people working on your account, but you should be able to directly communicate with them – especially any graphic designers. Like a game of telephone, messages can get mixed up when they are disseminated, so it is best to communicate first-hand with some of your account team on certain tasks. With graphic design, it is important for the designer to hear directly from the client what it is that they are looking for. The designer can ask the questions he or she needs the answers to in order to create a deliverable that precisely meets the client’s needs. We have found that it is often best to have as many of the team members as possible involved in planning meetings to be sure that everyone is on the same page .

8.    Do you have a specialty? What do you do best?
Many firms offer comprehensive, full-scale marketing services but most have a specialty or area of strength, such as graphic design or web development. Find out if the company you are interviewing has a specialty and if it aligns with your needs. Ask enough questions and get examples, case studies or references to ensure that the company is able to meet all of your marketing needs.

9.    May I see past campaigns?  Past work?
Ask to see examples of past campaigns and marketing pieces to give you an idea of whether the style and quality of the work that the agency produces aligns with what you have in mind for your company. Reputable agencies will proudly share past work, case studies and references with you.

10.    Do you have established vendor relationships or can I use my own vendors?
You want a company that already has established vendors to handle things like video duplication, printing, special event equipment rental, etc., or the agency will have to spend valuable time researching those services. The cost of that time can add up. Established vendor relationships can also mean savings for you, if as repeat customers, the firm can get lower rates for you. At the same time, if you have a vendor that you love and want to continue working with, be sure that you choose an agency that is happy to work with them as well.

11.    Do you have a special web designer or is web design outsourced?  Who does your coding?
While certain tasks will inevitably be outsourced (like photography, production of promotional materials or text message marketing), web design and coding shouldn’t be. Your website is your most important marketing tool and you want to work directly with a firm that can do your web design and coding in-house, so you can closely monitor those processes and get immediate responses when needed. You’ll also get the benefit of the collaboration that comes from co-workers joining forces on your project, and you’ll benefit from greater oversight and improved communication. You’ll also likely find that you’ll get greater commitment on your project from an in-house team that will take more responsibility for the whole program (compared to those in which various components are outsourced).

12.    How do you bill?  By job or by hour?
With many firms, you’ll likely see a combination of a project fee for specific tasks and an hourly fee for continued work/maintenance on the project or extra services (or a retainer fee that is broken down into an estimated number of hours to complete a project), based on the scope of work. There are pros and cons to both the marketing company and your company of both models.  Most clients prefer a project-based fee structure, so they know exactly what to expect to be billed each month, but find out upfront which model prospective firms will use, and either way, your firm should be transparent when it comes to billing rates and/or fees and you should know exactly what services you are paying for.

13.    What is the fee structure for ad creation versus maintenance?  What is the fee structure for web site development/creation versus maintenance?
You’ll likely find that you’ll be quoted one fee for the creation of a project (like an ad or website) and then a rate for maintenance on that project. Be sure that you understand what is included in each component; you should feel comfortable asking questions and discussing everything that is included with each. A trustworthy firm will have no problem explaining what to expect with regard to fee structure and billing. Be sure to get a full disclosure of client fees and billing arrangements up front and in writing before the commencement of any work.

If you are in the process of hiring a marketing company, be sure to call us at 847-259-7312.