Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at Marketing Agencies

Small business owners are faced with numerous decisions on a daily basis, and one that they often put off is hiring an expert marketer to help grow their businesses. One of the reasons this gets tossed on the backburner is because it can be intimidating when you don’t know what questions to ask.

Here are some ideas to help guide you through the process:

1. What are your specialties?
Not all agencies or marketers are created equal. For example, a firm might advertise that it handles everything you might need, but later you might find a majority of its work is in website development. Maybe they’re not the right fit for your print and advertisement needs.

It’s OK to diversify. Have someone to handle your graphics and branding. Hire a web specialist or programmer to handle your online needs. Of course, if you really like the marketer you’ve just met, go with your gut. Often marketers have a wide network of resources that they use to complete the work they’ve been hired to do anyway.

2. What are the contract terms?
Don’t be afraid to ask this up-front. You don’t want to be caught at the end of the hiring process only to find out that you owe a down payment you can’t afford. Ask what their proposal and contract process usually entails. Will the firm present you with a formal proposal? What does the proposal normally include? How do those details translate to the contract? How do they handle payment? Ok, that was more like six questions. You get the point.

3. Do you have referrals?
If you just happened upon the agency, you might want to ask for some referrals. Just like hiring an employee, checking up on someone’s working past is a good idea. Your agency should be able to offer you some examples of past work as well. If they’re not able to provide you with a referral, watch out. If you were referred to the agency by a trusted resource, don’t be afraid to ask your friend the likes and dislikes of working with that agency.

4. Do you guarantee a return?
If an agency specializes in promotions, and especially if they’re asking for an upfront cost to run the promotion, ask about the return on investment. The riskier and the more expensive the pitch is, the more important it is to ask about if there’s a guarantee. Not everything works, even with the best research and intentions. Though, as fellow LinkedIn member Mark Schiavone  said recently in a Hot Dog Marketing discussion, you need to know “what skin in the game” they are willing to do. To put it another way: the marketer is asking you to bet some money it’ll work – are they confident enough in their approach to bet the same?

5. What case studies and proven history can you provide?
Small, individual freelancers may not have a formal case study they can present to you, but any one you consider should be able to rattle off some successful campaigns he/she has led. The larger the agency, the more glossy their case studies presentation should be. The longer they’ve been in business, the more examples they should have.

If you are pleased with the answers you get from these questions, the chances are that you’ll be pleased with the firm you’re interviewing. How happy you are working with the firm or individual over a period of time will be determined by that gut feeling I mentioned earlier . . . that subjective internal discussion, “Do I like this person?” Marketing successes don’t come in the short-term. Successful strategies need time to work, and whether you like the person you’re hiring will have a lot to do with determining your ability to stick with the project over the long term.