16 Questions to Ask a Marketing Firm Before Hiring Them

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. Here are some questions to ask a marketing firm before hiring them.

16 Questions to Ask a Marketing Firm

questions to ask a marketing firm

Before you start a partnership with a marketing firm, it’s imperative to take a step back and introspect. The alignment of your expectations and the firm’s capabilities can be the make-or-break factor for your collaboration.

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.

Here are some pivotal questions to ponder before entrusting a marketing firm with your brand’s vision.

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?

questions to ask a marketing firm

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.

How much am I willing to allocate for marketing efforts, and is the firm transparent about its pricing structure?

Before diving into a partnership with a marketing firm, have an open conversation about budgets. How much are you willing to spend? What does their pricing structure look like? Will there be any hidden or additional fees for specific requests?

Do the firm’s work ethics, culture, and values resonate with mine, ensuring a seamless collaboration?

In the world of marketing, where a brand’s persona is mirrored by the strategies put forth, the alignment of values between a business and its marketing agency is paramount. When there’s a mismatch, cracks begin to appear, leading to misrepresentations and misunderstandings. So, how can you ensure a seamless partnership?

  • Shared Values: Begin by understanding the core values of the marketing firm. Are they built on integrity, innovation, customer-centricity, or some other foundation? Compare these with your business ethos. A shared value system often leads to cohesive strategies and smoother communications.
  • Compatible Working Styles: Not all businesses operate the same way. Some prioritize quick turnarounds, while others lean more towards thorough, albeit slower, meticulous approaches. Gauge the firm’s work rhythm. Is it in tune with yours?
  • Company Culture Match: Dive into the firm’s culture. Are they more formal and corporate, or do they have a startup, laid-back vibe? A cultural fit ensures smoother day-to-day interactions and can heavily influence the style of campaigns they propose.
  • Transparency and Openness: Trust is the cornerstone of any successful collaboration. Ensure that the firm practices open communication, welcomes feedback, and is transparent in its dealings.
  • Future Vision: It’s more than just the present. Does the firm’s vision for the future align with your business growth goals? A shared future perspective can drive more proactive and long-term strategies.

Are there relevant case studies that showcase their expertise and problem-solving skills in scenarios similar to mine?

Before hiring a marketing firm, always ask for relevant case studies. They serve as concrete evidence of the firm’s capabilities and provide insights into how they tackle challenges similar to yours.

What regular feedback and review mechanisms are i place and how often will we evaluate key performance metrics?

questions to ask a marketing firm

Ensure you establish a feedback mechanism from the beginning. Determine how often you’ll have review meetings and the key metrics you’ll be focusing on. This will help keep the collaboration on track and result-oriented.

If the partnership isn’t meeting expectations, is there a clear, respectful process in place to conclude our collaboration?

questions to ask a marketing firm

Just like you would with any other contract or partnership, discuss an exit strategy. Should the partnership not meet expectations, both parties should have a clear understanding of the process to dissolve the relationship, ensuring minimal disruptions and preserving mutual respect.

How has the firm previously navigated crises, and what strategies do they have in place to manage potential challenges swiftly?

How does the marketing firm handle crises? Have they successfully navigated any with previous clients? It’s essential to know your firm can swiftly and professionally manage any unforeseen negative publicity or issues.

Does the company prioritize staying updated?

Selecting a firm that stays on the cutting edge of trends, tools, and techniques is essential to keep your business relevant and competitive.

Consider these aspects:

  • Industry Trends: The firm should have a pulse on industry shifts and emerging marketing trends, from social media fads to SEO changes. These trends often dictate consumer behavior and can significantly influence the success of your marketing strategy.
  • Tools & Technology: With the rise of AI, big data, and automation, marketing has moved far beyond traditional means. Check if the firm has proficiency in leveraging state-of-the-art tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Training & Development: Does the firm invest in its employees’ continued learning and development? A team well-versed in the latest skills is more likely to bring innovative ideas to the table.
  • Thought Leadership: A great way to gauge a firm’s commitment to staying updated is its contribution to industry discourse. Do they have thought leadership content in the form of blogs, webinars, or industry conference participations?

Here’s are some additional questions you could ask:

CriteriaImportanceQuestions to Ask
Industry TrendsHighHow does the firm stay abreast of the latest marketing trends and how are these implemented in their strategies?
Tools & TechnologyHighWhat tools does the firm use? Are they utilizing the latest technology for data analysis, automation, and customer engagement?
Training & DevelopmentMediumWhat ongoing training and development programs does the firm offer to its employees?
Thought LeadershipMediumDoes the firm contribute to industry thought leadership through blogs, speaking engagements, webinars, etc.?

How does the company measure campaign success, and how often will they share analytical insights?

questions to ask a marketing firm

Lastly, understand how the marketing firm measures success. Which tools do they use? How do they track ROI? How often will they share reports with you? You need tangible results to gauge the success of your campaigns.

By incorporating these suggestions, your article will provide a comprehensive checklist for small business owners and ensure a successful partnership with their chosen marketing firm.

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.

Choosing the Right Marketing Questions to Ask

Choosing the right questions to ask a marketing firm before hiring them is crucial to ensure that their services align with your business needs and goals. The questions you ask should help you understand the firm’s expertise, working style, and how they measure success. Here are some key areas to focus on when formulating your questions:

  • Firm’s Specialization and Experience: Understand the type of marketing the firm specializes in and their experience with businesses similar to yours. This helps in assessing whether their expertise aligns with your marketing objectives.
  • Pricing and Contract Structure: Inquire about their pricing model, whether it’s a flat fee, hourly rate, monthly retainer, or commission-based. Understanding the contract terms, including minimum periods and cancellation policies, is also essential.
  • Deliverables and Timetable: Clarify what marketing materials or results you can expect and the timeframe for delivery. This ensures that both parties have aligned expectations.
  • Team Composition: Knowing who will be working on your project is important. Ask about the qualifications and areas of expertise of the team members and how they handle internal conflicts or changes.
  • Measurement of Results: It’s important to understand how the marketing firm measures and reports success. Ask about the tools they use for analytics and how often they will share these insights with you.
  • References and Past Work: Request case studies, references, or testimonials from past or current clients. This provides insight into their past successes and how they’ve handled challenges.
  • Approach to Technology and Tools: Inquire about the technologies and tools they use, especially in relation to lead generation, content creation, and data privacy.
  • Feedback and Review Mechanisms: Establish a clear mechanism for feedback and regular review meetings to keep the collaboration on track and focused on results.
  • Handling of Crises and Challenges: Ask about their experience in managing crises or potential challenges, which is crucial for navigating any unforeseen negative publicity or issues.
  • Adaptability and Learning: Check if the firm stays updated with the latest marketing trends, tools, and techniques. Their willingness to adapt and learn can be crucial for your marketing efforts.

By considering these aspects, you can formulate a comprehensive list of questions that will help you assess whether a marketing firm is the right fit for your business. This due diligence will pave the way for a successful and fruitful partnership????.

Ask Yourself Photo via Shutterstock

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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.

18 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:

  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.

  5. A great read, Jennifer. Thank you 🙂

    I must say, an interesting viewpoint on the issue. Most posts focus on how to find a good match, agency wise. But they don’t look at how to approach their side of it, the client side.

    I’d suggest this post to marketing agencies as well. Especially as these are the issues they may have to deal with, and it’s their job to prevent some issues on the client’s side. Mainly because an agency sees them on a daily basis, and most clients aren’t aware of them. At my agency, we see them quite often. And it’s our job to handle them. Some may be deal breakers, of course, but those are extreme cases.

    I’d like to add a few cents from my perspective.

    For deadlines, a business owner should always discuss them. If the agency can’t handle them, they’ll say no. But it’s better both parties are on the same page with this.

    For communication, it’s not good if you want to communicate too often. I know this is subjective, as I don’t like clients who do that, but I think if an agency agrees to it, it doesn’t solve the biggest problem – stress. There are always situations where something comes up, and you need to have an urgent discussion. That’s something else. Or if you’re an active engagement, and you both have tasks to finish.

    But if it’s an ongoing relationship with no need for often spot checks – it’s better to agree to a communication schedule. Even if tasks come up you want done, if it’s not time sensitive, it’s better to wait until they compile a bit and send them as bulk (this is for simpler tasks). In outsourcing, it’s vital that the communication is as clear as possible, and communicating too often or spot checks as a product of stress cloud it up.

    Last, for guarantees. I think a good approach is to create goals and milestones, and a contract that allows you to break out of the engagement if you’re unhappy with the delivery a certain milestone. This gives you a bit of a guarantee that whoever is on the other side is focused to reach the goal, and a bit of space for the agency in an off-chance they miss the expected goal, to provide you with insight on why that happened and suggest adjustments.

  6. Great read jennifer! If you are like me, I had no time to create my own content. Do your research before you spend money online marketing or you can become a victim. I got scammed! I wanted to share my story and hopefully it will help someone like myself avoid the same mistakes and save money in the process. So i was recommended to a local online marketing company by a friend. Due to my lack of knowledge with the online realm, I trusted that the local marketing comapany knew what they were doing and promising. Then it started. Billing me $2,000/month for their so called marketing static package. What they failed to disclose was that their “static” packages were bascially just posting images on my social media accounts and growing a few followers a month. They said “It takes time” to get traffic. Which was total bs because they had no idea what they were doing. All they kept sending me was monthly reports with no sales. My contract was already 6 months into it but how could I get out? My friend told me about Odditly (google them). I reached out to odditly and asked them if they could help me! Odditly isn’t a marketing company. They are a auditing firm. They are like the sheriffs of online marketing. After I hired odditly to look over the contracts with the local marketing company, they discovered i wasn’t getting what I was paying for. There was a breach of contract hence I was able to cancel my contract and even got a few hundred refunded! Moral of the story, just do your research and due diligence prior to blowing all your money on a company who have nothing but fake promises.

  7. Marketing is simple, you give and and give we all benefit. Its hard to track marketing except if done digitally with analytic trackers. Build unique partnerships with others in your niche and scale.

    This article has been a good read.

    Thanks Jennifer!

  8. Marketing is something that is essential for any company. To get a product or service known, you have to make the information available to as many people as possible. The best way to do that is through marketing. I agree that it would be important to make sure that the marketing company that you choose is someone that can get projects turned in online so that you will be able to get your marketing campaign going.

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