September 1, 2014

8 Questions to Ask Before You Hire A Marketing Firm

hire a marketing firm

As a small business owner who runs a marketing firm, I hear all the time about the relationships that didn’t work out. Small business owners who can’t find a marketing firm they “click” with, marketing firms that are frustrated by the clients who balk at every idea, etc.

Communication is key to avoiding these issues.

Remember, marketing is a partnership. Nobody plays tennis alone. You need to be able to do your part to make the relationship work. And a big part of doing your part is being extremely clear about what you want. To do that, you need to ask yourself some questions first.

Ask Yourself Before You Hire a Marketing Firm. . .

Are You Willing to Listen and Try New Things?

Before you spend a penny on your marketing, it’s time to ask yourself if you’re ready, willing and able to listen to the person you hire.

No one says you have to implement every idea. Working with a marketer doesn’t mean slavishly adhering to everything they have to say. But if you’re not willing to even consider something different from how you’ve always done it, you’re wasting your money paying for someone else’s new ideas.

What’s Your Communication Style?

Every business owner is different. Some people prefer to communicate with their marketing firm very rarely, communicating primarily through emails and scheduled meetings. Other people want more time from their marketing team, expecting instant availability and response to calls, emails and tweets.

Understanding your communication style is very helpful when searching for a marketing firm. You want to find a company that’s a good fit. If you like instant communication and the firm you work with has a more laid-back approach to answering calls and emails, it will be a difficult working relationship to maintain.

Keep in mind that the more time a marketing company spends with you, the larger your bill will be.

How Are You With Deadlines?

Every marketing company will need certain things from you in order to do their jobs. It takes a lot of informational collateral to run a successful marketing campaign.

As the business owner, your marketing firm is depending on you to answer questions, provide insights and in-house graphics, review material as it’s developed and give approvals in a timely fashion to hit crucial implementation deadlines.

Maintaining an awareness of the project timeline is an important element to successful marketing.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Be clear about what you expect your marketing firm to do. Do you want them to generate creative ideas for you, or do you want them to implement ideas you already have?

The answer to this question can vary over the course of time. In the progression of a long-term relationship with a marketing firm, some of the creative concepts are firm-generated while others come from the clients.  The best ideas are often collaborations.

Your personality and expertise are two of your business’ biggest assets. You need to think through how you’re going to integrate these qualities into your brand messaging.

Some people prefer to be very behind the scenes, letting their business be represented by logos and iconography, while other business owners want their customers to be able to put a face with the business name. When it comes to expertise, some business owners believe that sharing almost everything they know results in empowered, educated buyers, while other business owners are more close-lipped.

There is no right or wrong answer here. Only the approach that makes you comfortable. You need to know what your preferences are and communicate those preferences to your prospective marketing firm.

How Much Education Do You Want Your Marketing Firm to Provide?

If you’re an experienced business owner and tech-savvy, you may feel fairly confident about your ability to implement the strategies your marketing firm recommends using the tools they suggest. However, if you’re not as confident, you may want your marketing firm to provide a certain level of education and training for your team.

For example, a digital marketing team may be asked to teach a business owner how to set up a Pinterest page or update a LinkedIn bio. Be aware of what your needs and expectations are, and communicate them to your prospective marketing firm. This will help you find the best fit for your needs.

What Do You Expect Your Marketing Agency To Do?

One big problem that crops up in marketing firm-client relationships is when clients expect services that the marketing firm doesn’t actually provide. Not every marketing firm does everything. The team that might create fantastic signage for your store could be a total flop when it comes to event marketing.

Understand what your team does, what they do well and when you’d be better served by seeking out another pro to handle your needs. It’s not always cost-effective to have your marketing firm do everything for you.

Taking some tasks in-house or finding a more affordable third-party provider to handle those tasks can make the most of your marketing budget. However, do make sure everyone knows how to work together to support your overall brand and message.

Do You Want Your Marketing Firm to Work With Other Professionals?

You may already have established working relationships with professionals. People such as your Web master, a graphic designer and so on – that you wish to continue.

Talk to your prospective marketing firm about the existing relationships you have, and ask about their willingness to work collaboratively. Some firms are very open to the possibility while others are not.

Clear communication around this point is essential.

What About a Guarantee?

As a business owner, you’ve learned to be cautious. Guarantees are good things. They mean if something doesn’t work out, you get your money back. Great marketers will present you with tactics and tools that have worked well for companies similar to yours in the past, as well as their own creative approach to implementation.

However, there’s no way to guarantee that your audience will respond the way you want them to. There are too many factors beyond the marketer’s control. The best sales campaign in the world can be useless if there’s a major blizzard the weekend of your sales event.

That’s why you seldom see guarantees offered by marketing agencies.

Ask Yourself Photo via Shutterstock

14 Comments ▼
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Jennifer Shaheen


Jennifer Shaheen Jennifer Shaheen, CEO and President of The Technology Therapy Group, captivates business & entrepreneurial audiences by teaching them how the smart, strategic use of great Web design and social media marketing allows them to do less and accomplish more.

14 Reactions

  1. Hi Jen
    I really like some of the key points you have made. You have really thought about the small business owner and what they already have and the value a marketing consultant should provide.

    Here is my checklist for hiring a marketer:
    http://www.macinnismarketing.com.au/?p=1665

  2. With guarantees, I would be wary of any company offering an iron-clad one. Either they’re reckless or overconfident. And if they can’t meet the guarantee and don’t get paid, they’ll check out.

    • I agree when it comes to guarantees. Be very wary.

      Nobody can guarantee a “#1 ranking in Google” or something similar unless they are reckless — or giving you a come-on that in the end will be meaningless, such as a top ranking for some obscure term no one ever searches on anyway. Nobody can guarantee that something will go viral, either. If they do, it’s quite likely that some or most of the activity is fake or bought – such as purchased tweets and Likes, or purchased YouTube views, etc.

      Those kinds of guarantees are useless.

      Now, a “money back guarantee” if you are not happy with their service — that’s a different thing. But few would give such a guarantee.

      - Anita

    • That’s right. It seems that most companies give out these guarantees thinking that they can win more business. But it is better if you know the marketing methods and outsource the particular methods without the guarantees.

    • Thank you all for agreeing with my point I have seen this way too often with turn-key marketing programs and it confuses my clients as to why I can’t provide a guarantee. I appreciate the support in this point :-)

  3. Jennifer,

    Great tips. I would like to add one more thing: What are the methods do you use in promoting my brand?

    Especially online, surprisingly, some marketing firms are not aware that what they are doing is unethical. This will impact your brand in a big way.

    • Thanks for that Ivan – I do understand that I ran into this in the early days of Facebook when many marketers did not read the terms & conditions of the platform. No surprise we have we all heard the SEO stories as well. Great point.

  4. Marketing is a partnership. You need to be able to do your part to make the relationship work and communication is key.

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