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What to Look for When Hiring a Marketing Partner

By Tim Williams
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With more than 65,000 marketing communications agencies in America, today’s marketers have an abundance of choice. If fact, so much choice it can be overwhelming.

To choose a marketing partner that’s a perfect fit for your business, ask these four critical questions:

Do they know my category?

The very best agencies understand that clients are not looking for a “wide range of experience in many categories” but rather deep experience in selected business segments. It’s essential to ascertain if the agencies you’re considering know the industry in which you operate — your issues, your challenges, and your competitive set.

Don’t fall for the promise that “We’ll get up to speed quickly” or the even more pernicious claim that lack of experience in the category means they will bring a fresh perspective. Only agencies with category experience can blow past the obvious, superficial solutions and dig deep to deliver truly ground-breaking solutions.

Do they offer the services that will solve my problems?

Despite the unfortunate fact that most agencies claim to be “full service,” look for an agency that is clear on their core competencies and is able to deliver best-in-class solutions to your business problems. Agencies that pledge to provide every service you could possibly need are overpromising, and it’s virtually certain they will underdeliver.

Be clear about your objectives and select an agency that has a high standard of excellence in the areas that are most important to you.

Will they staff my business with senior talent?

Agencies are famous for promising the “A team,” then assigning a more junior team to handle your business. Make it clear that you expect the personal attention of the top talent in the firm, and make sure you reciprocate by providing access to the top executives in your own company.

Do they make their money by selling outputs and outcomes instead of inputs?

If the agency you hire is billing by the hour, you can expect that they’ll want to maximize the number of hours they spend on your business. This is not in your best interest. Explain to your agency partner that you are buying effectiveness, and insist on paying for actual outputs (deliverables) not inputs (hours).  Ask your agency to agree on a fixed price for fixed scope. Better yet, consider a compensation agreement that rewards the agency for achieving a set of outcomes (results).

Ultimately, you’re looking for a business partner who has a focused business model.  Agencies preach to their clients the importance of clear positioning strategy, but often lack the confidence and discipline to effectively position their own companies.  You want an agency that walks its talk, takes its own medicine, and lives the principles they advocate for their clients.

By engaging in a candid review and discussion of the above questions, you’ll maximize your chances of finding a marketing partner that will live up to your expectations and deliver the value you seek from your marketing investment.

Tim Williams is founder of Ignition Consulting Group, a U.S.-based consultancy with a global footprint devoted to helping agencies and other professionals service firms create and capture more value. Tim is a noted author, international speaker, and presenter for major associations and business conferences worldwide.