How To Choose A Digital Marketing Agency

So you’ve come to the decision to outsource some or all of your marketing to an agency. That’s great, and exciting – an outside perspective can completely transform your strategy, creative, tactics and, ideally, results. But there are 100s and 100s of good agencies out there. How on earth do you go about picking the right one?

We’ve put together a list of questions you should ask yourself before choosing a digital marketing agency.


What is it you want them to do?

This probably seems hugely obvious, but it’s worth saying straight away. Different agencies are good at different things, so before choosing, you’ve got to fully understand what it is you are expecting from an agency.

This could be a refresh of your Facebook Ads creative. It could be managing one or two channels for you. It could be a strategic review of your targeting and positioning. Or it could be all of the above – it’s perfectly reasonable to want to find an agency to take care of every part of the marketing activity.

You’re not done there, though. You’ve still got to ask yourself…

What are their skill sets?

Some are great creative agencies, some are great tactical agencies, some are great strategic agencies. Some are even great at all of the above.

But we’d recommend that you look beyond what they say they’re good at. Look at their senior management team, and their backgrounds. If the agency specialises in start-ups, look for the senior team’s experience in the start-up world. If the agency specialises in creative work, check to see if any of their shareholders come from a creative background. If the agency claims to be a strategic agency, check to see if it is run by bona fide strategists and/or planners.

The reason we mention this is – remember these are marketing agencies, so they’re marketing themselves. They’ll be using keywords and phrases in their copy that they think will attract leads and convert them. By checking out the senior team you can get an idea of whether what they their website says is true, or if it’s just window dressing.

What’s their track record like?

This one can be a minefield, because naturally an agency is only going to put their positive testimonials and case studies on their websites. So there are a couple of things we’d recommend you look out for here:

Go beyond logos. Agencies love to put logos of big brands on their website, because it implies they’ve been given serious work by serious marketing people and succeeded. But there is a phenomenon of larger agencies ‘feeding’ bits of work to smaller agencies. Eg a massive agency working with Coca Cola might outsource bits of creative work to smaller agencies. Those smaller agencies would then be able to put ‘worked with Coca Cola’ on their website and all their pitch decks, when all they did was a couple of banner ads.

For that reason, look for proper transformational case studies. A case study of an agency coming in for a small company, doing a great job, and being able to produce measurable results tells you a hell of a lot more than a famous logo or two.

Look for independent review sites. An agency’s own website can only tell you so much. To get a fairer reflection of the agency’s skills and capabilities, look at sites like Clutch which allow businesses to review their experiences with other businesses. An agency can’t put a flattering Instagram filter on Clutch reviews – those reviews will be warts and all.

Is their pitch good?

Overall, agencies are really good at putting together sexy pitches. They’re good at putting together good looking presentations, and they’ll usually be pretty good at delivering the pitch. So how do you evaluate which pitch is good?

There are a couple of key things to look out for:

Does the pitch genuinely answer the brief? When you ask an agency to pitch, you should generally be giving them a specific piece of work to pitch for. When you receive the pitch, make sure they have specifically answered your brief and clearly thought about what you need from them, rather than just giving you a cookie cutter pitch of a load of creds and case studies followed by a cost. On the other hand some agencies, in order to win the work, will stuff a pitch with all kinds of irrelevant extra suggestions. Sometimes these can be useful, but generally the best agencies pitches’ will tightly answer your brief and not have an abundance of ‘fluff’.

How is the work costed? Different agencies have different ways of pricing, but generally they will have a day rate and an estimated number of days to complete the work. Some agencies will have a higher day rate, but suggest fewer days are needed. This should ring alarm bells that they won’t resource the account properly and will need to use overtime to do the work. Even if they don’t bill you for that overtime, you’re not going to get as good a quality of service if their staff are desperately trying to cram your work into their schedule. For that reason we’d suggest that an agency that estimates more days required is likely being more realistic and will give you a better service.

Do you get on with them?

Gone are the days where agencies regularly take clients out for long liquid lunches, unfortunately. But you’re going to work closely with your agency to get results, and it genuinely helps if you have a good personal rapport with them. Ideas will flow better, feedback will be received in a more positive way, and the time spent in meetings will feel fun and productive.

One thing to look out for is if the people in the agency who pitch to you will be the same ones managing your account. Sometimes, an agency will use their high flyers for the pitch but, once the work is won, hand it over to more junior staff. The relationship will generally be better if the people who you will work with day to day are also the people who pitch to you, so it’s worth asking about this. 

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