During the last 30 years, I have hired dozens of agencies on retainer
or for marketing projects. From advertising, promotions, events, research,
packaging, direct mail/lead generation and beyond. My approach may be a bit
unconventional but it has worked extremely well for me during my career.
Marketing agencies and consultants are needed because your
team may not have skills and experience in a specialized area like marketing
research, public relations, design, social media/SEO, lead generation and so on. It is also possible that
you and your team doesn’t have the time to focus on this and by bringing in an
agency, you are expanding your marketing team for project work.
Often I will put together a brief RFP (request for proposal) so that the agency has a frame of reference of the issues, the needs and the timeline. But I don't like to spend too much time putting people through hoops. I like to see how the agencies gather information, learn about our business and to understand what type of initiative they put into the process.
Here is what I look for in picking help.
What can I learn? I don’t ever want to hire people whose skills
are similar or a complement to my own. I am searching for new input, new connections;
new thinking that can help me see a different perspective on a problem. If
during an interview or a meeting there is nothing new said in the first 15 to 30 minutes, my instincts usually kick in and advise me to steer clear. I like to quote Chris Mathews and ask, "tell me something I don't know."
Is their skill set
transferable to my industry? Some agencies are experts in an industry but
have never crossed into other markets. I like working with people who have a
good deal of depth in one field (say 50%) of their work in health care and then
a nice mix of 10% in 5 other market segments. It means that they can bring
depth and fluidity to the exercise.
|Junior team members?|
Who will I work with?
You have to be careful that you don’t fall in love with the senior
management but realize that the junior business people will work on your
business and it is as if they were from a different agency. Look for understanding
of how the senior managers are engaged in your projects. Of course, you keep
cost down with more junior members of a team but can they solve the problems at
Style and Fit: I
have a “no assholes rule” which simply means I will not work with people I don’t
like even if it means they fit my criteria. Often you can tell with a few
simple observations- how do they treat your receptionist, junior staff or the
waiter/waitress at lunch? Sorry, life is short and I don’t want to work with
people I don’t like. In the case of third-party agencies, I get to choose. The
associates I work with from an agency have to be part of my team and play well
with other partner agencies. If they can’t fit together with some cohesiveness,
I know it won’t work. To be clear, I’m not looking for YES men and women- I am
looking for collaborative and civil colleagues who can bring new ideas,
insights and energy to my team. Jerks need not apply.
|No A Holes, please|
seems obvious but by speaking with three firms that have used the agency, you
quickly get a picture of how they may work with your team. You have to dig deep
into the involvement that the agency had with the reference so it helps to understand
from the agency what they purported to have done so you can ask pointed questions.
This has been invaluable for assessing and predicting success with agency or
consultant hires. Successful agencies and consultants build a track record and
you can usually see specific areas that they brought value to clients.
Within the reference check, I am also evaluating competencies. Does this agency have the technical skills to make me successful? Do they know and understand the latest practices within their field and can their references speak to this capability. I'd always prefer to hear someone else tell me how good an agency is based on their experience. I don't ever read their brochures or website content. Third party credibility matters much more to me.
Phased Approach: I
trust my instincts but I trust my experience more. I love to work on a small
project initially with an agency to understand how our relationship may
develop. I call this the first step approach. Do they bring the insights they claim, do they have the expertise
outlined on their slick website are they showing signs of being a good partner?
Have their demonstrated an ability to play well with my team? After working
together for a few months, do I want to continue working with them or is the
relationship doomed because of problems observed?
|The first step|
|How big is their network? |
Who Do You Know? Don't underestimate the power of a network to help you expand your business. Agencies and consultants may have connections that could be invaluable resources for your business. One of the criteria I use, along with the other topics mentioned above, is who can they introduce me to that could help my business? Do they know people within the industry or outside thought leaders who could be helpful? What associations, organizations or companies are they connected with and how can that help my team be more effective?
Summing it up, marketing agencies and consultants can bring great value to a marketing department. They can help you accelerate your projects, bring new thinking to problems and even help you grow your network of connections.
How do you pick your outside marketing agencies?
Labels: hiring marketing agencies, hiring marketing consultants, Marketing Moments