Updated January 2022
Digital marketing is often a large investment, but with the right agency partner, the returns in terms of business growth can be significant. Finding that partner depends on an understanding of each agency candidate’s capabilities and approach, and how they differ from each other.
To help find out as much as you can about a potential partner before you hire a digital marketing agency, here are some important questions you need to know when deciding how to hire a digital marketing agency.
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Questions to ask yourself:
What do I expect from a digital marketing agency?
You may feel like you’re falling behind your competitors because they have hired marketing agencies, but you should ask yourself what your expectations are for any agency you opt to work with. What are your goals? Do you want more traffic to your website? More walk-in leads? Interested in generating sales via paid ads? These require different strategies that a digital agency can help with, but first you need to figure out what you want and need before an agency can help you.
What is my budget for this project?
Money and pricing will always be a concern for businesses. Make sure you understand what your realistic budget is for digital marketing services and determine if you want a one-time service or (preferably) on-going digital marketing services. A corollary to knowing your budget is knowing your timeframe for hiring a digital marketing agency. Are you wanting to hire one immediately? Or are you waiting for next quarter or fiscal year?
What did you like and/or hate about your previous agency?
If this isn’t your first time working with a digital marketing agency you should consider what were some things other agencies have done well and things you were sorely disappointed with. These are topics to discuss with any potential agency you want to vet. You also should be clear with any agency what your expectations are, from communication to approvals and reporting. Having clear expectations at the outset will help the project run a little more smooth.
What to ask a digital marketing agency:
Who will work on our account?
Your first conversations with an agency may be with agency principals or others who are in charge of new business. If your account will be turned over to team members you haven’t met, ask about them or, better yet, ask to meet them. You’ll be spending a lot of time with your agency’s people, especially at the outset of the relationship, and you need to be sure you have a good fit.
If it’s important to you to have access to the agency’s leadership, ask how involved and how available they’ll be to you as time goes on.
Will you provide references?
Checking references is everyone’s least favorite vetting task, but reputable agencies should be glad you asked and smart clients shouldn’t forego this. Ask for contact information for agency clients within your industry (or one that’s very similar in terms of marketplace) with whom the agency has recently worked.
If we work with more than one marketing firm, how will you coordinate with them?
It’s not uncommon for companies to have multiple marketing partners. Since most digital agencies don’t provide a full range of traditional advertising or marketing services, such as print or broadcast work, your digital agency partner should be willing to sync its efforts with other agencies or consultants. It’s more important than ever to present a unified brand and cohesive messages to your audiences, regardless of where they encounter you, so coordinating all of your marketing partners is essential.
Are there additional fees or other products to budget for in addition to your digital marketing services?
Depending on the services you hire an agency to provide there could be additional fees. You should find out this ahead of time so it doesn’t come as a surprise if your agency sends you an additional invoice. A common example is with paid advertising: you pay the agency to manage your online ads but you also must pay the cost for the ads. Sometimes businesses forget that this is an additional fee they pay directly to Google or some other entity.
It’s also common for agencies to expect specific tools or software to manage their projects effectively. Sometimes these tools have an associated fee (like a premium version of a website plugin), normally it’s better for you to purchase the license for these tools.
What digital marketing services are included in your contract?
It’s important that you know exactly what your contract states will be completed and what deliverables you can expect from your selected digital marketing agency. Part of your contract should explain how (and how often) the marketing agency will report deliverables and results to you and your team.
You also need to know what the process is for ending the contract—will you have to provide the agency with a certain amount of notice?
Questions to ask before the project kicks-off:
How will you gain knowledge about our business, industry, and competitors?
Targeting your best audiences is one of digital marketing’s strongest advantages. Potential agency partners must have a plan for getting up to speed on your company, marketplace, and competition in order to effectively target the people you most want to reach. Because your business is like no other, there’s no off-the-shelf solution for learning about it.
What will you do to achieve early results?
Beware the agency that promises you a place on Google’s first page or a 200-percent increase in phone calls within just a few months. Great digital marketing can move the needle in the first 90 days, but sustainable success is built in increments, and that takes time. If the promise of results seems to good to be true, it is.
Questions for the day-to-day experience:
How will you collaborate with our internal team?
The success of your digital marketing campaign may hinge on how well your agency and your internal team work together. Talk with potential marketing partners about how much of your team’s time and attention they anticipate they’ll need and how those resources will be used.
How will you measure campaign performance and report results? How often?
This is another area where digital marketing gives you the edge, because everything is measurable. Although great results may not come right away, the agency needs to have the ability to show ROI and give you as much detail as you want about how your budget is being spent. Ask potential partners what metrics they plan to use and the format in which they’ll be shared. At a minimum, you should have a monthly call or meeting to review results.
What marketing tools do you use, and are they proprietary?
Proprietary tools can lock you in to staying with an agency and lock you out of your own marketing data, because only the agency will have the ability to update or change it. You want only open, standard tools to be used, and you want to know that all of your data, creative work, and every other asset created in the course of a campaign will belong to you. All parts of the agency’s process should be transparent as well.
Will any of your services be outsourced to third-party providers?
In itself, outsourcing is not necessarily a bad thing, and a lot of smaller and even mid-sized agencies may work with outside, individual contractors such as writers or coders. This can be a way to lower the agency’s and your costs, since the agency can buy only the services it needs, when it needs them. You will, however, want assurances that the ongoing, strategic work and other critical parts of your campaigns will be done by the agency itself.