ROI Brand Executive Series
The stakes are high. Given the central role advertising plays in your overall business success, there’s considerable risk in hiring a subpar agency. Differences between agencies are far more substantial than surface attributes such as cost. The right agency is the one aligned with your expectations in areas such as expertise, optimization speed, and communication responsiveness.
The following eight questions provide a grid through which you can examine key agency differentiators in order to choose the agency partner to meet your business goals:
- What is their pricing structure?
- What are their contract terms and commitment length?
- What is the size of the agency’s channel-specific specialization?
- What additional services does the agency offer?
- What are the reasons to trust their integrity and expertise?
- What depth and frequency of communication can be expected?
- What structure is in place to ensure account management continuity?
- What is their investment in technology?
It’s important to understand the context behind these questions in order to confidently assess the quality of information you glean about each agency under consideration.
1. What is their pricing structure?
Though cost is an obvious consideration factor, it must be weighed in proper context. The difference in fees between a decent agency and a truly stellar agency may amount to a few thousand dollars per month. Differences in technology and expertise between the same agencies, however, can easily drive performance gains one or more orders of magnitude above any differences in fees.
That said, agencies typically price their services in one of three ways:
- Flat fee based on level of service
- Flat fee + Percentage of ad spend managed
- Flat fee + Percentage of advertising-generated revenue
There isn’t one “best way” to price agency services. At the end of the day, reputable agencies scale the amount of resources put into each client account based on expected service fee. So keep in mind that while lower overall fees may look better on paper, this almost always signifies lower resource allocation and/or technology investment, which in turn correlates to lower performance.
2. What are their contract terms and commitment?
Even the most expensive agency fees can be justified by strong campaign performance, but what happens if the performance isn’t there? What a nightmare to find yourself locked into paying an agency’s fees months after you’ve lost faith in their work. If your goal is measurable performance, contract length will often have more bottom-line impact than your actual monthly fee.
Month-to-month contracts are ideal, but rare. Most agencies require yearly contracts. Ask what’s involved in getting out of a contract if you’re not happy with their work before signing. Give extra points to out clauses involving minimal hoops, lawyers, and/or termination fees.
3. What is the size of the agency’s channel-specific expertise?
It’s foolhardy to sign over your campaign management to an agency with thin expertise or structure. The entire agency doesn’t need to be focused on one channel, but each of their internal teams definitely should be. Is the team building Amazon campaigns the same person handling Google AdWords or Facebook campaigns?
If you wanted a jack-of-all-trades running your marketing campaigns, you’d be better off cross-training one of your own employees! Steer clear of an agency with less than 5 strategy analysts dedicated to each advertising channel/platform under consideration.
4. What additional services does the agency offer?
If you drive 100% of your sales from one channel — and see this continuing into the foreseeable future — then there is no downside to hiring an agency 100% focused on that channel. If, on the other hand, your strategy and growth plan involves multiple sources of traffic, you should look for an agency with a more comprehensive suite of specialization areas.
Specialization is more than meets the eye. You don’t want opportunistic agency with a thrown-together, incongruent set of shallow service offerings. (“Yeah, we can do that for you” isn’t a confidence-inducing response.) Ask questions to understand their depth of specialization in other channels relevant to your growth path, which may include paid search, Amazon, social advertising, and website optimization.
5. What are the reasons to trust their integrity and expertise?
An agency’s integrity and expertise will be much more clear after a few months of working with them, but that won’t help you now. Trust takes time to build, but you need a shortcut — one that extends beyond the likability of the salesperson (which, for better or worse, often weighs disproportionately into a final decision).
In the absence of direct experience working with an agency, be on the lookout for the following trust signals:
- Reputable client list including some role model companies
- Industry partnerships and presence
- Testimonials from clients identified by name
- Thought leadership content and case studies
- Client references you can contact
6. What depth and frequency of communication can be expected?
Communication defines the quality of all relationships, agencies included. Be aware of your own preferences and expectations related to communication style, depth, and frequency. What cadence would best serve your own work style and the momentum of your business.
Don’t read too much into your interactions with an agency during their sales process — salespeople are financially incentivized to be on-the-ball with responsive and consistent communication! Instead, ask direct questions to understand the level of contact and personal attention provided in typical client relationships. While website testimonials should bear this out some, you should confirm this directly by asking their client references. If there’s any concern, be sure that your expectations are precisely spelled out in the client agreement.
7. What structure is in place to ensure account management continuity?
It’s typical for smaller or low-cost agencies to only put a single analyst on a client account. This setup puts you at risk. Analysts take vacations, get sick, or suddenly put in a two-week notice because their spouse got a job transfer to Milwaukee.
How quickly can the particulars of your goals and campaigns be handed off to another analyst? Be sure of this: the learning curve is rarely trivial. It takes time to develop a working knowledge of your specific vertical, product line, business goals, operational constraints, brand voice, and campaign structure.
To get around this, make sure the agency has multiple analysts looking after your account. Multiple account analysts and/or strategists should involve themselves in your campaign build-out and optimizations. Such a structure is the only way to get the operational redundancy you’re paying for, and that an agency should be providing.
8. What is their investment in technology?
The majority of advertisers content themselves to work exclusively within the capabilities and reporting limitations of each ad platform’s self-service web interface. Advertising API’s, however, open up powerful advanced capabilities for those with the initiative and expertise to engage in custom programming initiatives.
Technology not only increases an agency’s operational efficiency, custom API-integrated software and tools can also confer meaningful competitive advantage to advertisers. Even so, agencies can be so focused on the strength of their technology that they take a hands-off approach to day-to-day campaign optimization. Campaign performance suffers without adequate human intelligence at the wheel. As discussed earlier, the highest value an agency can provide is first strategic before it is tactical.
Making Your Final Decision
The right digital agency will provide unparalleled benefits for your business, freeing you to focus on matters you alone are equipped to handle. You’ll thrive within your own unique abilities to the extent that you’re able to offload key work into trustworthy, skilled hands.
Are you ready to learn how ROI Revolution can help you achieve your brand growth goals? Claim your complimentary competitive analysis report, which outlines how you stack up to your competition while also giving you actionable insights, key growth strategies, and advertising opportunities to help you profitably grow your brand.