There are around 25,000 digital marketing agencies in the UK, choosing your perfect agency can be tough. Do you work with a team of freelancers, a full-service agency, a niche agency or even one of the big consultancies that are now getting in on the action? Or do you pick a local partner to your company for ease, or do you select based on the best for your needs, regardless of location? Also, do you pick an agency specialising in your industry and has specific, in-depth knowledge, or do you work with an agency with broader expertise that could offer a different perspective?
Working in marketing for 12 years and running an agency for the last 7, I’ve selected numerous partners to work with on behalf of our clients, and for the agency. Below are a few tips for selecting the right agency for your organisation:
Know exactly the team that you will be working with
The strength of an agency is made up of two key components:
1. Business and operational processes, allowing people to deliver their best work
2. The people, delivering the work and service the client
You can measure the first part through industry reputation, sales collateral, culture, responsiveness, agency brand/presentation, and processes. The second part is just as important, as no matter how brilliantly the business is run, ultimately it is individual people that deliver the work. You need to ensure that you have the right team on the project. Make it a mandatory requirement that you meet at least the project manager but visit the agency better. Most agencies cannot afford to send out the whole team that will be working on your project. Still, if you visited the agency, the likelihood is that you would meet most of them and get a better flavour of the individuals that will be working on your account. In our experience, only about 20% of clients visit our office before selecting us. Still, it is hugely beneficial for the client to get a better sense of the agency’s personnel.
Invest the time developing a detailed brief for the digital agency
We receive hugely differing briefs, from a single pager for a £100k budget to an 80-page pack for a £20k website. The most valuable briefs are those that clearly outline the following:
- Overall objectives and goals
- Any work that has been done to date (research, insight, wireframes, brand guidelines, etc.)
- What the client is looking for in terms of agency support
- Process for the pitch and the decision making (including who will make the final decision)
- KPIs and measurement criteria – this isn’t vital as we often work with our clients during the strategy stage of the project to define these
- Budget – by not disclosing any guidance on budget, you won’t get the best submissions back from agencies. They will have to make an educated guess on the amount you should invest and then develop a solution around this. We create websites from £10k through to £300k; the solutions proposed for these differ greatly. Digital solutions can be complex, allowing experienced agencies to help you understand what your proposed investment can get you. You are then comparing apples with apples rather than receiving wildly different solutions.
Set a ‘thinking’ brief not a ‘creative’ brief
There is much debate in the industry about the fairness of clients expecting weeks and weeks’ worth of work to be done by the digital agency for free before making a selection. I’m not getting into that argument here, but if you set a brief for the digital agency, make it an insight or approach-driven brief, rather than asking to see pixel-perfect designs. The reason is that selecting a digital agency based on whether you like the design they produce reduces the decision to a single aspect. As a digital agency, we have, at times, benefit from this process, but I don’t agree with it.
When we start working with a client, we have time to do in-depth research, run workshops, understand the brand and the company vision and truly immerse ourselves in the client’s world. A digital agency has none of that when they do a design for a sales pitch. Sometimes they will hit the mark, but it can often be down to luck. The best sales process we have done recently was for the University of Southampton, who prepared a structured workbook for each digital agency, asking how they would do things instead of ‘just design something based on limited information.
We have received and responded to hundreds (if not thousands) of briefs over the years – there is a definite skill involved in creating one that will get you the best results. If you need any impartial advice on this, I can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org