10 important questions to ask a marketing agency before you sign

Congratulations! You’ve done your research and identified that you need some external help with your marketing. You’ve contacted a few agencies you found through a Google search, or maybe a friend or colleague has handed you a business card.

Whatever the reason you’re looking to engage the services of a marketing agency, and however you’ve come to find them, it really pays to do your homework and understand the true nature of the help you want and need, so you can ask the right questions and engage the right agency for your business.

If you’re looking for someone to take over the day-to-day operations of your social media community, bringing an agency on board who specialised in email marketing is to invite disaster. Likewise, if you’re needing help developing a strong email marketing campaign, then make sure you bring in a team that knows how to do just that.

We’ve broken down the top 10 questions you should ask a prospective agency, before you sign on the dotted line.

10. What is your key area of skill?
Some agencies claim to do everything, but are really specialised in one particular area. Some agencies are good when it comes to marketing automation, but struggle to provide sound social media coverage. Alternatively, some agencies are great at content marketing, but don’t have in-house skills for community management. Knowing what it is you need their help with can help you save a lot of wasted money and time spent trying to communicate your needs with them.

9. Who will be working on my account, and who is my main point of contact?
Most agencies have a team of experts that will do the operational work for your business, but will put you in the hands of an account manager. This is a great way for you to only have to communicate with one person, then get the work completed. Unfortunately, it can lead to mis-communication, especially if the project manager or account liaison doesn’t understand the type of work that is being done on your behalf. This is a pretty rare occurrence, but it doesn’t pay to know everyone on the team, so you can communicate effectively, especially when time is of the essence.

8. What is the culture/personality of your agency?
You have a style and manner, so does your business. It’s very important that anyone working on the behalf of your business meshes with that culture or personality. If it doesn’t, you might start seeing a disconnect between messaging, or multiple edits on copy or design before the right feel is achieved. A lack of cohesion between client and agency can also lead to a lack of faith in the abilities of the agency to commit to the work required. If you’re engaging their services, you want it to give you peace of mind, not more stress.

7. How do you stack up in terms of requirements and budget to other agency clients?
This question is a bit of a curve-ball, and agency’s really don’t often expect to be asked it. They want everyone to feel like they’re the most important client in the world, but sometimes resources need to be shifted in order to appease a large client and get a project across the line. Knowing how your business fits into their landscape can help you understand how your account might be prioritised. It also helps you to understand how much additional work they might be able to take on, so you can act (and engage) accordingly.

6. Does the agency see itself as a service-provider or a partner?
Like previous questions, this one helps you gauge how your work will be viewed and dealt with. If the agency you’re speaking with approaches their work as a service provider, they may not be as invested in the results, compared with their attitude if they’re regard themselves a partner of their clients. Chances are, they won’t really know how to answer this one, so it’s a good one to ask to see how they react to the unforeseen. Most agencies will use terms like “thought-leader” if they see themselves as more of a partner, or “delivery” if they’re more of an order-taker. Knowing this may help you decide what kind of a relationship you want to have with an agency.

5. What is the minimum billable time, and what is your time block for charging?
Most agencies charge in blocks of time. Like lawyers, they will charge for a full block of time regardless of whether or not you used 100% or just 20% of that block. For example, if an agency charges in 15 minute blocks, you will be charged for 15 minutes of time, whether or not you use 15 minutes of their time, or just five. A likely scenario to outline this would be a phone call. If you make a quick call to check on something and the call lasts seven minutes, you will still be charged for fifteen. Likewise, the minimum billable time is something you need to be aware of, especially if you are looking to engage services by the hour, rather than in a package. Many agencies are now moving away from a by-the-hour model, in favour of a package. That said, it pays to ask early in the process, so you can make sure what you need is going to be covered in the package or hour block you are contracted for. If you have a minimum billable time stated in your contract with an agency, it doesn’t matter if a job took half of that or all of that time, you will still be charged for the full amount of minimum billable time.

4. What services does the agency outsource?
Not every agency has a full retinue of experts for every service they provide. Sometimes, extra resources are required to cover all the work an agency has on its books. This question helps you understand if any of the work you are engaging their services for will be dealt with by an external resource, meaning you may not have direct access to the person doing the work on your account, should the need arise. This could be incredibly important for work requiring a fast turn-around or an intricate understand of your business’ industry.

3. What experience does your agency have with businesses in my industry?
Every business is unique, and will present its own particular challenges for an agency. That being said, if you’re looking to engage the services of an agency that hasn’t worked in your industry previously, there will be additional work for them to get up to speed with things like terminology, protocols, or legal compliance issues. This isn’t to suggest your should consider an agency that hasn’t worked with businesses like yours previously. Sometimes this type of partnership can provide incredibly creative responses to provided briefs. It does pay, however, to be wary and prepared for the extra speedbumps in the way.

2. What marketing strategies do you use for yourselves?
This question is pretty straight forward. If an agency is suggesting it can run or help with your marketing, but isn’t drinking their own secret sauce, then chances are they’re not the agency for you. You want someone who walks their talk, and can show you how to do it as well, not someone who watched a YouTube video once and is now an “expert” on running. This is definitely a questions agencies don’t get asked a lot, and it really throws them a curve ball. It holds them accountable even before a contract has been drawn up, and it shows you’re not likely to have the wool pulled over your eyes.

1. What haven’t I asked you about that I should?
This question allows them to fill in the gaps of your questions, provide you with any specialist information they might be able to provide, and makes them feel like they’re back in control of the conversation. It also lets them know that you’re willing to take their expert knowledge and suggestions on board, helping to foster a positive relationship right from the get-go.

These questions aren’t designed to trick agencies, or catch them out. Instead, they’re suggestions of ways you, as a business owner, can get real answers to things you need to know before making a decision on the right agency for you. If you’d like to ask any, or all, of these questions of us, we’d be more than happy to answer them along with any other questions you might have. Drop us a line or let’s catch up for a coffee, and have a chat about how Blank Canvas Digital can help you achieve your business goals.

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