When to Hire a Marketing Agency, That is the Question

The obvious but great time to hire a marketing agency (“marketing partner”) is

when you don’t have one. The next time is when your incumbent continues to fall short of your declared expectations and isn’t doing anything to correct the situation. Another time, which we may never see again, is when your business is doing well or bank account has been running consistently in the black and you want change for chage sake. If any of these are true, this is as good a time as any to assess your need for professional outside marketing counsel.

But first, what is marketing?

The expression marketing gets used, abused and confused, but I like the simple definition – “the process of bringing goods or services to market.” The actual act of transferring ownership is implied. Having said that, marketing means that a host of processes are potentially involved:

  • Advertising
  • public relations
  • research
  • development
  • collateral materials
  • sales promotion
  • direct marketing
  • interactive marketing
  • trade shows
  • sales

You may have sufficient staff so that you don’t need much outside help. Then again, if that list encompasses more than you expected, or more than you’re doing for yourself, maybe it’s time to favor hiring experts “as or when you need them.”

Whatever the case, the coming months will determine just how well your company will fare in the improving economy.

If you’ve been handling marketing in-house, consider this:

  • You know YOUR business; but are you also a trained marketing expert?
  • Even if YES, do you have time and energy to handle both jobs?
  • How does your marketing compare against your competitors?
  • Is your ad budget more than 5% of gross sales?
  • Do you HAVE an advertising budget?
  • Is your marketing founded on research?
  • Does your in-house work (really) save you money?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to tell colleagues you’ve finally hired your “own” agency?

If your answers suggest you may be compromising more than one on this list of eight, then that would justify conducting an agency review to evaluate your options and subsequently hire an agency if the evidence supports that action.

A good outside, third-party professional marketing organization (today they carry various names including “ad agency, integrated marketing communications firm, new and interactive agency, mar-com organization, public relations firm, etc.), is able to provide that big-picture, out-of-the-box perspective we all hear about. The expression “integrated or fully-integrated” is meant to suggest that the firm is neutral both in it’s examination and subsequent recommendation as to what combination of “marketing or media elements” would be appropriate for your company to use. But fully integrated also means that the agency should be capable of transparently delivering the impartial solution(s). Meaning – the agency may not provide ALL the necessary services under one roof, but they have strategic alliances in place such that they can provide those services without burdening you with any extra steps or risk.

If you already have an agency relationship, ask yourself:

  • Is their work for us fresh and exciting?
  • Are we getting what we pay for?
  • Do they think about us without being prodded?
  • If we need “full service”, are THEY “full service?
  • Do they fight for what they believe (and know?)
  • Do they respect us (our service or product?)
  • Do they understand our target market?
  • Have they explored ALL the options?
  • Are we their BEST client?
  • Do they generate a Return On Investment?

If your answer is NO to more than one on this list, it too would make sense to conduct an agency review to evaluate your options. That is, assuming you’ve already spoken with your agency about your concerns regarding the point(s) in question. You do owe them that.

On the all-important budget topic:

In any agency review, don’t let anyone tell you that money (or budget) doesn’t talk! Each agency (marketing organization) has certain client budget minimums, arrived at through experience and predicated in part by the economy and their current client load. That’s why it’s important, for the sake of conducting what you want perceived as an “informed” agency review, that you have some idea of what your budget is or should be.

How much you CAN spend depends on how much you can afford. Not just based on “what’s in the bank,” but a complex calculation that includes predicted response (ROI) to your pro-active marketing actions, coupled with a cash-flow analysis, and based on anticipated and available funds.

How much you SHOULD spend is for the marketing professionals (ad agencies, public relations folks, other marketing types) to determine. That takes into account your corporate objectives (as in – sales as a result of…), intended market share, or increase in market share, ability to fund expenditures, etc.

Maybe you’ve had an unpleasant experience by declaring your budget early on or what you thought was too openly. That has happened. But as a general rule, when you speak with the interested agencies, engage in open dialogue when it comes to your BUDGET.

If everything says hire a marketing partner:

If you’ve done your due diligence and have concluded it’s time for a new agency (or a fresh marketing partner), think and act carefully. Identify, invite and investigate only those candidates that possess the attributes you demand. This is much more than a hunt for pretty pictures, so don’t start looking at creative samples until you’ve confirmed a fit based on capabilities and some degree of chemistry (likeability) tested during a telephone conference. After that, it makes sense to ask for creative samples. In the final analysis, you’ll select for capability, chemistry and creative. As virtually everyone learns, in business, birds-of-a-feather flock together and likes do attract.

Finally, regardless of your size (gross sales, budget, market-share, employees or locations), be certain your marketing candidates will do for you that which you can’t already do for yourself.

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Learn How Much Corporations are Spending on Advertising

Read Bloomberg Businessweek’s Advice on Hiring an Agency

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