Are You Ready To Work With An Agency?

You wouldn’t hire someone without a job description.  The same principle goes for hiring an agency.  The more clarity you have about what you need and want, the better the outcome for you, and the less time you’ll waste in the process. Here are a  few things to think about before you start an agency search.

Do you have clear goals/KPIs?

What defines business success for you?

  • Awareness? What’s your benchmark? Likes/Shares or organic search?
  • Sales? Repeat customers or new customer acquisition?
  • Inquiries? How ‘warm’ do you need them to be? Do you have a sales team ready to pick up the ball, and defined points of interest?

Do You Need Search Engine Optimization?

Your website is homebase. If it’s in good shape, with up-to-date relevant content, your ad campaigns will be more efficient. If you don’t have the knowledge and resources in house, strong SEO audit capabilities should be part of your search.

  • Do you need an update or an overhaul?
  • How are you ranking?
  • Any UX issues?
  • Who are your competitors online?

Should you hire an internal social media team?

We recommend that your social media posts be handled internally if possible. The reasons are practical:

First, platforms strictly limit the commercial messaging of posts (because that makes them Ads, and they want you to buy those.)

Which means it’s very difficult to budget the effort it takes to create a compelling post. It takes hours to find/create/adapt a captivating visual or video, and craft the right message. Then, someone has to respond to posts – both good and bad. Someone with corporate authority.

What should the role of your internal social media team be?

Strategically focus your internal team on the awareness/lifestyle/cultural aspects of your message. Those aspects support consumer decisions, even though they may not be the message that drives the attributable response.

Make sure you have an efficient approval process in place, so social media managers can respond in a timely manner.  Have an official policy regarding negative responses, and make sure everyone in the company (not just the team) knows what NOT to do if you get trolled.  (This goes double for the CEO!)

Have You Defined the Digital Services You Need?

Digital agencies all use similar language to define very different services.  What does ‘digital marketing’ mean? What does ‘full-service’ mean? You don’t need to know every tool that exists, but you should understand enough to evaluate whether they do. Here’s where we start:

How Do You Assess an Agency’s Strategic Thinking?

An agency that only talks about their services may not have the experience to understand your challenges. Does the conversation feel cookie-cutter? Are you being promised that it’s easy? Or that they have a “proprietary method” of discerning what you need? That’s agency-speak for “we have to think about it.” Nothing wrong with that – thinking is what you want your agency to do.  The question is, who’s doing the thinking?

For us, strategy starts with understanding your business and your business goals. Do you need awareness? Leads? Or a closed sale? Those are vastly different goals that require different approaches.

We ask dozens of questions to understand your internal and external resources and challenges.

Do you have support from the C-suite? Who are the stakeholders in the outcome?

What industry trends threaten your future? What competitors are sitting in your space? What do you know/need to know about your target audience? Is it time for proprietary research?


What SEO/Content support should an agency offer?

For most of us, SEO and SEO-focused content are a continual battle. To give you a battle plan, we frequently recommend an SEO Audit.  This helps uncover tactical weaknesses that need to be fixed, keywords that scream for content, and who your competitors really are.

We then discuss how to develop robust content that is keyword driven and SEO-focused.  There are different ways to go about it, and we work with clients to come up with effective solutions.

What Digital media planning should an agency offer?

Look for planning experience that’s about more than budget. An experienced agency will discuss with you how the campaign needs to be structured.

Who are you reaching? Different media deliver different audience data, and different audience experiences that affect your messaging. Experienced digital media planning also incorporates thinking about your creative assets.
How are you telling your story? Each medium has format options that are continually changing: stories, video, carousel, single image, lead form, and who-knows-what-next? A strong media plan tests creative variations as well as platforms.
How are different need-states addressed? Look for a variety of consumer stages, from unaware to ready-to-act. A robust plan will address each of these.

What Media buying and management should an agency offer?

Pay per click? Social media advertising? Programmatic placement? Paid Search? Digital radio/tv?  Ask who is managing each and whether they are in-house. Each medium has become increasingly specialized, so unless you’re working with a major agency, don’t expect all the buying to be done in-house.

What Dashboard, Analytics, and Budgeting services should an agency offer?

Your ad team should offer a customizable dashboard that captures data across multiple platforms. It can be real-time, or not (depending on how real-time your business needs it to be, or how obsessive you are), but you should have private access to your data.

You should also expect a monthly report summarizing the data and providing you with key insights and recommendations.

To maximize ROI, you need to be flexible in moving budget allocation as needed. Discuss how you want those decisions made: how much day to day decision making are you comfortable leaving in their hands?

Ask what training and certification they offer.  Our social media management is Blueprint Certified (Facebook), and everyone is certified in Google Analytics.

What Email management should an agency offer?

Email is more than a workhorse, it’s messaging you control. As platforms (Facebook, anyone?) shift their message allowances and formats, email gives you a clear path to your loyal customers.

If you’re not handling it internally, your agency should be able to not only manage, but grow your lists. We integrate management with list acquisition strategies.

What creative services do you need?

What Content/Copywriting skills should you look for?
You need writers who can create structured content for search engine optimization.

What Video production skills should you look for?
Video is increasingly important for content and search. You want your creative team to think in long and short-form, so that you have flexibility across media. Ask about typical budgets and look for the ability to create simple videos as well as more elaborate productions.

What Visual design skills should you look for?
“Design” is a term that covers a lot of territory. Some designers are stock shot whizzes, or photoshop masters, others are adept at working with the hottest photographers and retouchers. Logo development is a specialty, as is infographics. Design can be hired on a project basis.

What should an agency know about Platform integration?
Ask how the strategists, media planners and creative teams work with one another. Digital advertising requires a continual flow of information and teams that can speak across disciplines. Is there easy communication back and forth?

What type of digital agency do you need?

Big agency
They’re global, they’re powerful, and as we say in the industry, “nobody ever got fired for hiring Ogilvy.”

Best for

  • 24/7 coverage
  • Regulated industries with potential legal downsides
  • Publicly traded companies with big boards
  • Celebrity-driven/studio integrated campaigns
  • National events


  • Day to day work gets pushed down to the cheapest labor (i.e. the newest hires) who may not have the experience to anticipate problems
  • If you’re not the biggest fish, you may struggle for attention
  • You pay for everything, whether you use it or not.

Hot creative shop
They’re hip, they’re running a mile a minute, they have a wall of awards, show up on every panel, and know the lingo before it’s lingo.

Best for

  • Launching a competitive product that thrives on attention
  • The latest shiny object
  • The boss obsessed with being cool


  • Best if integrated with a PR strategy, so you get press about the project
  • Better for those focused on “awareness” rather than ROI.
  • Be ready to buy in to the project that will win them a prize for creativity.

Small networked shop
Also called the “Hollywood model” because they only bring on the services each client needs. They’re flexible, and focused on measurable results.

Best for

  • Clients with a stake in the outcome: owners, CEOs, front-line managers
  • Campaigns that need to drive a measurable response
  • Personal attention from the owners



  • Best if your business doesn’t need 24/7 attention
  • Experience varies



Is chemistry important in choosing a digital agency?


For all the measurable differences and checklists above, the most important factor in choosing a digital agency really comes down to chemistry. After all, it’s a partnership.


Beyond ‘liking’ the people at the agency you are considering, think about whether you communicate well with them. Do they understand what you’re asking? Do they ‘get’ your business and your challenges?


How’s the trust? Are they transparent about how they charge for their services? Do you trust them with passwords and other proprietary data?


Do you and your team feel respected? You should feel comfortable asking questions. Some agencies like to prove themselves by dropping the latest terms into the conversation, but jargon is not a substitute for clarity. Don’t get snowed.


Do you have more questions?
Let us know.