In business and life, selecting the right partner is paramount to success. Shared goals, compatibility, honesty, and the often elusive chemistry are key components. This principle also holds true in the all-important process marketers embark on when selecting a digital agency.

It is more than common for today’s in-house marketing team to be pulled in so many directions that taking on all initiatives internally becomes unrealistic and unmanageable. Which means marketers are tasked with finding a digital agency or agencies that can support their marketing campaigns. Within the digital marketing universe, there are different types of agencies that perform one or many of the tasks required to achieve a successful campaign. For example, marketers may need content creation, web design, digital advertising, website development, SEO, landing pages, blogs, and more. A digital marketing agency typically helps organizations navigate these waters, build strategies, implement camapaigns, and optimize those campaigns over time.

Before shortlisting your digital agencies, consider your goals.

There is much to consider when selecting a digital agency. As with any investment using company funds, the stakes are high and fortunes may rise and fall on the decision. Marketing budgets are hard fought prizes and the wrong choice can scuttle your budget for the following year. Complicating this further is the growing need to employ multiple agencies to successfully launch and maintain a campaign, i.e., a web design team may not offer content creation, though web design and content appear together in the final product. This combination moves the relationship from careful selection to successful management. A more complex task that the traditional ‘marketing tracker' spreadsheet was not built to handle.

So how do modern marketers begin the process of selecting the right digital agency or agencies? Much the same way that we always have - set goals, research, and create an investment strategy.

When planning a marketing program, it's tempting to quickly throw funds into a multi-channel campaign with the hope that somehow, something will trigger the right response. After all, with a big enough list and a well-tested product, it seems reasonable to assume success is just a few weeks away. However, this often leads to wasted resources and missing your targets. It's important to step back and think strategically before jumping in head-first when making this, or any, investment.

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  • Start with Your End-Goal: Determine your end-goal first, which should point back to your business goals. Do you need to drive immediate sales or you working towards long-term growth? By determining this initial, you can focus your efforts on the strategy and tactics that will achieve end-goal.

  • Next Is the Research Phase: By doing a consumer analysis to learn who your target user is, you will be able to determine what type of content makes them tick (educational, inspirational, long or short form). You will also attain a better grasp of where they gather information (social, blogs, webinars). Lastly, you'll understand when they are most active. The same holds true for conducting a market analysis. It too has characteristics that need to be dissected.

  • Develop your Strategy: Based on your research and end-goal you can develop a "working" strategy. A "working strategy" allows you to stay open to new information and ideas as you begin to source for an agency, or agencies, to achieve the end-goal. Importantly, the working strategy allows you to determine what areas you will need to source outside support. Now you are ready to go agency shopping!

Digital agencies can often bring a unique view of your market, audience, and the industry verticals you are mining. They also have a deep understanding of the swift-moving digital landscape. For example, content creation is constantly evolving as users adapt to new devices. Social media sites are continually updating algorithms, while search engines notoriously change the rules. Which is why your strategy should be a living document that evolves during the selection process. What you learn in this process is often critical to success.

Traditionally, sourcing agencies meant developing a Request for Proposal. Typically, this document details your marketing criteria and end-goal. It is then sent to select agencies you may know from your personal network or find on a directory. This method limits your exposure to a wide mix of agencies who may be a better match, burns resources, and slows your time getting marketing funds employed to achieve your end-goal. However, recent advancements in marketing automation allow for a much quicker method to source and manage vetted agencies. Read how marketers are sourcing digital agencies in the Top 4 Time and Cost Efficiencies Gained in Sourcing, Hiring, and Managing Marketing Agencies in the Digital Era whitepaper.

4 Criteria to Look for When Shortlisting Digital Agencies

Regardless of how you source an agency there are several key criteria you must consider to arrive at the correct decision.
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  1. Transparency in Service Approach: How quickly and willing are they to define and outline their approach to the project? What KPIs and milestones do they suggest? How agile are they with a change of direction occurs? Do they provide reporting?

  2. Passion & Proof around Service Approach: Do they believe in what they're doing and do they have proof their approach works via case studies?

  3. Responsiveness: Are communications timely and professional? How quick are they to respond? Even if the response is, ‘we'll get back to you ASAP with an answer.' Response time provides insight into what to expect and when.

  4. Transparency in Pricing Structure: Actual pricing is less important than an agency's willingness to be transparent about it. How well have they defined or outlined their pricing structure? The latter will give you clear insight into their cost management practices, which can impact you and the partnership. Additionally, can they explain the cost-to-value ratio?

At its center, digital marketing is series of trial and error tasks designed to engage your target audience on the dynamic organism known as the internet. The advantage they bring to your project is they already know marketing strategies that would take us mere mortals years to discover. Digital marketing is difficult, its multi-dimensional, ever-changing and complex. As you begin to search for the correct agency, start with an end-goal, do your research, and form a fluid strategy that can grow into a winning formula for success.