By Mike Wolfe

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Choosing a marketing agency to partner with is a lot like … well, you’ve heard the analogies. It’s a lot like dating, marriage, buying a car, finding a needle in a haystack. Each of these examples circle back to the same general idea that some thought should be put into the decision in order to make the right choice.

Why would an organization consider partnering with a marketing agency? There are several reasons, but ultimately it’s because either sales or sales qualified leads, or both, are low and expectations aren’t being met. Often times, marketing departments don’t have the appropriate resources to get the job done on their own. In some cases organizations have only one or two dedicated marketers and can’t keep up with tasks. Or perhaps you have an agency partner already, but you’re still not getting the results you expect.

Related: 6 Signs It’s Time to Hire an Inbound Marketing Agency

Whether it’s due to a lack of resources, knowledge, skills or expertise, putting the right team together (including agency partners) can help you improve performance and achieve the results you expect. Which is to say that choosing the right marketing agency to partner with is vital for success.

Getting Started

Before you start seeking a marketing agency to work with, there are a few considerations you should make. This internal reflection will help you decide the most important factors to look for in an agency and the specific questions you need to ask each potential agency.

Service Needs - Marketing services can range from advertising, PR, design, media and more so identify the specific needs your team has in order to narrow your scope and find partners that specialize in the areas you need the most help with.

Expertise Needs - Identify areas of expertise that your team doesn’t have, but would greatly benefit from. An agency with a wide variety of marketing expertise can help your team look at things from a new perspective and maybe even shed light on an approach you haven’t thought of before.

Day-to-Day Logistics - Think about how you would like your team and a partnering agency to come together in an ideal scenario. Identify the internal approval process for projects as well as a point of contact that is responsible for communication. Having a clear picture of how you expect to work with an agency on a daily, weekly and monthly basis will help set expectations for both sides as they come together to essentially form one collaborative team.

Vision for Success - Have a general idea of what you would like this newly expanded team to accomplish. More sales qualified leads, more marketing qualified leads in the pipeline, and better nurturing programs are a few examples. Determine what success should look like and when it should be achieved.

What to Look for in an Agency

Once you have a general idea of the services and expertise you need, how you expect the logistics to work, and what success should look like, you can start looking for the right agency criteria. Here are a few things you’ll want to look for in a marketing agency:

Knowledge and Expertise - Obviously, marketing agencies should have at least some level of expertise. Look for examples of their expertise and how it has helped clients achieve results.

Vision for Your Organization - Before partnering with an agency, they should be able to articulate a general vision for your organization. They should be able to understand your current marketing activities and speak to strategic opportunities that will help you achieve your goals.  

Tools and Resources - Knowing the tools and resources they have access to will help you understand how they plan on helping you meet your goals. It can also give you an idea of how leads will be tracked and progress will be measured.

Creativity - Having the right expertise, vision and tools can only go so far if agencies don’t have creativity as well. Look for examples of their creativity and ways they have helped their clients on the fly in unique scenarios.

Client Retention - Look at, or ask about, the agency’s client retention rate. While some partnerships may be intended to be short-term, most agencies that work well with organizations and deliver results will have long relationships with their clients.

Cultural Fit - Make sure that the agency has clear cultural values that are aligned with yours. Partners that shares values will mesh well with your organization and be more likely to have chemistry with your internal staff. Also look for cultural traits that would complement your organization such as an overall passion for marketing or aesthetically appealing design.

Execution - Perhaps the most important criteria is a demonstrated ability to bring all of these things together and get the job done. Every agency will say they can get the job done, look for the proven results.

Taking the Next Steps

If you’re considering a marketing agency partnership, you might be interested in a couple of resources to help you in the process.

First, the How to Hire a Marketing Agency guide will provide you with a more in-depth view of what to look for and help you choose an agency that’s right for you.

Second is the following list of questions you should ask yourself and potential agencies when going through the selection process. This will help you put together a custom checklist that is specific to your needs.   

Internal Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What are your service needs?
  • In what areas do you need the most assistance?
  • What areas of expertise is your team lacking or wanting more of?
  • What would you like to learn from the agency you work with?
  • What strengths does your internal team have that agencies could leverage?
  • Who will the point of contact(s) be between your organization and the agency?
  • Who will you want to have approve deliverables?
  • What is your vision for success?


Questions to Ask Potential Agencies

  • What services do they provide?
  • What is their area of expertise?
  • What results have they achieved for their clients?
  • How many examples of success can they share?
  • What are their clients saying about their service, success, expertise, etc.?
  • What vision do they have for your organization?
  • Is their vision for your organization aligned with yours?
  • What tools and resources will they use to achieve results?
  • What is their client retention rate?

What other criteria should organizations look for when choosing a marketing agency? What questions would you like the answers to before partnering?

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Mike Wolfe

About the author

Mike Wolfe is a consultant at SmartBug Media helping clients find success through inbound marketing. Read more articles by Mike Wolfe.