What are the Key Questions to Ask When Assessing a Marketing Consultancy or Agency?

What are the key questions to ask when assessing a marketing consultancy or agency for your business? Trying to decide and select the one best suited for the specific needs of your business is not easy. Yet, it is an important decision since you are entering into a relationship with the intent that it will meet your needs, be fruitful, align with your values and culture, and result in a win-win relationship.

Key Areas to Assess

Having interviewed many marketing consulting firms and marketing agencies during my tenure leading Marketing for businesses and for clients, my assessment process focuses on these three key areas:

  • Does the firm or agency have the expertise (skills, knowledge, and experience) to serve my specific needs? If yes, how have they proven this to date?
  • Is the firm or agency interested, enthusiastic and motivated by my business and the specific needs I am seeking their help with? If so, how, and why?
  • Will we work well together? Do our values, cultures and work styles seem to align to avoid a square peg in a round hole type of working relationship?

Unless you recurringly recruit and select external marketing experts to trust with helping your business, you may not know which questions to specifically ask to select the best firm for your needs. To support you in doing this, I have compiled a list of questions and considerations as a guide.

Assessment Questions and Considerations

The responses that a firm or agency provide to each question will serve as a strong indicator if there are any red ‘let us stop here’ flags, yellow ‘better proceed with caution’ flags, or green ‘let us keep moving ahead’ flags. Some of these questions may first need you or you and your team to carefully consider and ask yourself, while others are intended for the prospective marketing firm or agency.

Before interviewing any potential firm or agency, you will need to have a clear understanding and definition of what you are seeking from them. Starting with:

What am I looking for the marketing consultancy or marketing agency to do for my business? (answer this internally)

If you already have an in-house marketing team, you may need strategic thinking and development from whoever you engage. Hiring a partner that specializes in developing marketing strategy and planning is key here. On the other hand, you may have the marketing strategy and plan ready but lack the internal talent or bandwidth on your team to implement it.

Mapping out your specific goals and available resources will provide you with a better understanding of what you specifically need when partnering with a marketing consulting firm or marketing agency. While some firms straddle strategy, planning and implementation, others only do one or the other well, so deciding what you need upfront is important to your decision criteria.

What is their area of expertise?

Revisit the needs you have specifically outlined when asking this question. It is unlikely that you are looking for a “jack of all trades, master of none” marketing firm or agency. If their response is “everything,” this is a red flag. There are no firms that honestly do everything well.

When screening a marketing firm or agency, it is important to look for and work with one who clearly knows who they are, what they do best, and who they are best at helping. There are so many firms out there today that finding the best one means finding the one who is an ideal fit for the specific help you need to achieve your specific goals

What are their core values?

While you are not hiring an employee, the core values of the firm or agency you chose to help your business are still very important. Core values say a lot about a company and the way they do business. Core values are the foundation that drives and motivates the firm to consistently focus on what is important to their own company and to their clients. If their core values do not align well with yours, this too can be a red flag indication.

How is the culture fit? (Not really a question)

This assessment is often taken for granted because you cannot directly ask this as a question. However, it will come across as you learn more about the marketing firm’s culture based on their core values, style of communication, reputation, testimonials, and the people on their team.

How familiar are they with your industry? If so, does this matter?

Sometimes having this specific knowledge is helpful if your needs require industry expertise to get done what you need. However, in many and most cases, this is not necessary. Having professionally crossed many industries, I honestly believe the innovative, objective thinking and recommendations I am able to provide clients stem from having such diverse exposure to a range of best practices that are transferable among industries.

If a marketing firm or agency has not worked in your industry that does not mean that they will not have excellent help to offer. Ask them specifically what they can provide if not industry expertise to ensure your needs and goals are achieved.

Do they have case studies and references?

It is important to review representative samples of similar work, not necessarily in your industry, that the firm or agency has completed for other clients. These samples coupled with client references and reviewing client testimonials provide you with a wider lens of what you can expect from collaborating with them.

Is all the work done internally or with other business partners? Who will be doing the work?

No longer is rubbing elbows in the office required for individuals to work effectively and efficiently together. In today’s virtual world of work, teams are spread all over and often include the seamless integration of “tried and true partners” who work collaboratively to serve clients’ needs. The platforms and media available today enable people all over the world to work as one team.

Finding out who will be doing the work is important! Marketing consulting firms and agencies frequently have the most tenured partners and principals present to prospective clients to secure the business. Yet when it comes to who is doing the work, it is often delegated to more junior members on the team who may be actively developing the skills and expertise you need now and not down the road.

It is important to know upfront who you are engaging to do the work on behalf of your business. Will the work be done by those who ‘have been there and done that’ and provide the firsthand experience and expertise that you need? Or will they only be overseeing the work of their junior team members?

When interviewing potential partners, ALWAYS make it a point to meet and understand who exactly will be assigned to my business to do the actual work. Then carefully review those individual’s past work to ensure the right talent and skills will be addressing the specific needs at hand.

What is expected of you as the client?

You and the firm or agency will have expectations of each other. You both have your own workstyles, processes, tools, and preferred forms of communication and management. Some marketing firms or agencies are more hands-on than others. Do you prefer one that is more hands-on over a more hands-off and independent one?

Some clients prefer continuous communication and updates, while others prefer less communications, and only want to know as needed. It is important to identify and communicate upfront the level of involvement you are expecting from them, and what they are expecting from you. This enables you to see if the day-to-day working relationship is likely to be compatible.

What is the initial client onboarding process and timing?

The sales process is quite different than the service engagement process. During the interviewing stage, ask the firm or agency for an overview of what the first 4-, 8- and 12- weeks will look like based on your specific needs.

How and when will you receive communication from them?

This builds upon expectations sharing upfront. With so many platforms available today for marketing communications and project management, many marketing firms use these tools to automate their client communication process. It is important to learn upfront how you will receive communication, from whom, and how often. More specifically, who will be your direct point of contact for updates, ongoing feedback, questions, or problems that arise during the relationship? What is the availability of this person? How soon after I contact them will a response be received?

What is the anticipated timeframe of the engagement from inception through completion?

Depending on the nature of the work or services you are requesting, there may not be a set “completion” date because it is intended to be an ongoing engagement. However, knowing the timeline for the various milestones associated with the work you are requesting is helpful when deciding upon the right firm to meet your needs.

For those with specific needs that will have a defined completion date and specified deliverables, it is important to also ask upfront what you will ‘own’ at the end of the engagement.

Who ‘owns’ the end work when the engagement is completed?

Does the marketing firm or agency ‘own’ the rights to the work or deliverables, and let you use or license what they have provided? Or does ownership transfer completely to you? If so, when?  Before selecting a firm, it is important to identify upfront who ‘owns’ the rights to the work, whether is it free and clear, and when.

When is it anticipated that you would see outcomes or results from the work they will be conducting for your business?

There is no “one size fits all” answer here. It is dependent on the work or services that the firm or agency is performing for you. Either way, they should be able to provide you with a good faith estimated timeframe based on their experience of when you can expect to see the outcomes or results from what they have done for you.

Be cautious. If a marketing firm or agency promises you too good to be true, it is. All parties need to be honest and realistic upfront when discussing the timing.

Are there other products or services that you will need to budget for outside of their service fees?

It is common for agencies that work with specific software and tools to require the client to license or purchase some of these tools for them to conduct the work requested. The price range varies depending on the tools and the size of the company or number of users. It is important that both parties discuss this transparently upfront, so the firm or agency does not surprise you with additional required investments.

What is considered a “rush” project, and will there be additional fees involved?

Depending on the scope of work you are looking to get completed and the types of needs you have, you may end up having additional requests surface, with some requiring a tight turnaround.

While most firms or agencies can manage these timely requests, they may charge you a fee to expedite a request because it means shifting their own resources and attention. If a rush fee exists, which is more common on the agency side than the consulting side, you will want to know upfront what constitutes a rush fee and what the fee will be.

Ask them to tell you about a recent engagement that did not go well. Why did it not go well?

Like the question on a job interview where a person is asked to share their own weakness or a situation that did not go as planned, this question makes the firm or agency reflect, and hopefully they will transparently share a situation. The value of this question is not from what went wrong per se, rather what they learned from the situation, and how they would do things differently to avoid the scenario from repeating.

Closing Remarks

Choosing a marketing consultancy or agency to work with your business can be challenging. Yet with careful consideration to exactly what you need and the specific goals you are looking to reach, coupled with the right set of questions to guide you through this process, you can confidently select a marketing firm or agency that matches your needs and results in a winning relationship!

While this article focuses specifically on the process for assessing a marketing consultancy or agency to help your business, our recent blog shared how to decide upon the type of marketing help you really need. It too covers marketing consultancy firms and marketing agencies, and shares other options that you may also want to consider.

To learn more about this subject or chat about your specific needs, please schedule a phone call or video discussion with us.

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Marketing Matters based in Stamford, CT in Fairfield County serves diverse businesses and organizations in CT, NY, NJ and the US. We consult with clients and help them with specific areas of marketing including conducting research to gain insights and intelligence, developing strategy, plans and metrics, developing or refining a brand, traditional and digital marketing and communications, and aligning Marketing and Sales to drive growth and achieve results in today’s evolving market.  For questions or to learn more, contact us by phone at 203.329.7773 or online.