Boss Lady

What to look for in a digital marketing agency


If you do a Google search for ‘Digital agency in my area,’ or post a job in a Facebook business group, you’ll be inundated with agencies vying for your business. As an owner of one of those digital agencies, one of the most common questions I get asked from potential clients is, “how do I compare your services to other agencies?” And, it’s a fair question. Many business owners have a tough job knowing what to look for in a digital agency and ranking them to match their needs. But with so many digital agencies and freelancers popping up, how can you figure out which one is right for your business?

The truth is, not all agencies are right for you. I’m not here to tell you that my company is your best bet either. It depends entirely on your business and what you’re looking for. Here are a few factors to consider before you commission any work:

Do your research

A digital agency should excel in the digital space. So, when you’re researching potential agencies, pay close attention to how the agency presents itself online. Is the website mobile responsive and up-to-date? Are there social links that go to well-maintained pages with great thought leadership and examples of previous work? Is the website typo-free? Are there plenty of positive testimonials?

Also remember that ‘digital marketing’ is a broad term. It means different things to different people. For example, are you looking for blogging, public relations, video production, advertising, influencer marketing, direct marketing, paid search, design or something else entirely? The website should clearly state the agency’s core competencies. In most cases, if the agency doesn’t mention a service or brushes over it, they may be weak in that area. So, do your research and make sure that the agency specialises in the core services that you need.

Be clear about your expectations and outcomes

It’s important to be clear about exactly what you expect of the agency as soon as you pick up the phone or type your intro email. Providing vague or overly complex briefs or not knowing what outcomes you want to achieve can set both parties up for failure. Ask yourself, ‘what is the minimum result that I expect from this campaign/scope of work/ongoing service?’ For example, is it about brand awareness, changing consumer behavior(s), obtaining leads or making sales? Be as clear as you can about how you plan to measure results.

Also be aware that most agencies are keen to onboard as many clients as possible. Account managers are taught to say ‘yes’ to opportunities, even if it’s not the right fit. We’re all guilty of taking on more that we can chew in pursuit of driving business. Let the agency director or account manager know that it’s OK if they don’t feel that they can deliver to your expectations and that you appreciate their honesty. And, if they can’t deliver, ask them if they can recommend someone who can.

Understand who will be working on your account

In larger agencies, you’ll often meet with the Director in the first instance and then never again – or perhaps not until the end of year Christmas party. So, while first impressions count, it’s important to establish and meet your primary point of contact before you enter in to any agreements. It’s also important to recognise that your work may be outsourced to freelancers or other agencies both locally and overseas. While there are cost benefits to outsourcing to talent overseas, it’s also risky. Unless the agency has a good working relationship with an overseas freelancer, built on years of trust, you may run into problems with quality, communication and copyright infringements. So, it’s important to ask the digital agencies that you’ve shortlisted if they outsource work or do everything in house. Good operators will be transparent with their business structure. Outsourcing isn’t necessarily a no-no if they’re prepared to pass down the cost savings to you and there’s clear track record of past performance.

Look for shared values

Working with a digital agency should be a long-term relationship built on trust and shared values. After all, they’re going to have the keys to some of your most important business assets. You’re also likely to be spending a lot of time with this team, so you need to get along well and feel confident that they work with the same ethics, values and mission that you do.

You can find evidence of their values in the way that they communicate on their website and in subsequent communications. Ask yourself: Are they open? Do they talk about their values? Have they explained how they work? Do they seem invested in my success? Trust your gut – it won’t let you down.

Be prepared to pay the price

Talking about money isn’t easy, but be prepared to be upfront about your budget and understand that quality work is expensive. As the old saying goes, ‘you can’t buy a Ferrari on a Ford budget.’ There’s no point spending hours in meetings with the agency, only to find that you can’t afford their services. So what should you be prepared to fork out for digital marketing? Like every product or service, there are varying degrees of quality and offerings so expect to receive a range of quotes. Junior freelancers are likely to charge less for their work as they may under value themselves or want to create a portfolio. (However, be aware that unless you have a fixed contract in place, freelancers will commonly up their rates once they get busy enough to do so.) Conversely, large agencies will likely charge more for their work because they can: they may have a solid track record of success, a steady client base already in place, and more overheads.

When you receive the quote or proposal, ensure that you’re clear on exactly what each service includes. For example, does it include strategy hours or simply task hours. Will there be a method for measuring and reporting on results? If so, what is it? Ask the agency to explain their pricing structure – for example is it calculated on hours? If so, how many hours are involved? These questions will help you to understand the value vs cost benefit and make a better informed decision.

Ask for references

Beyond reading reviews on Google, it’s important to carry out phone reference checks before you contract a digital agency. Ask the company Director to nominate one or two clients that would be happy to provide a reference over the phone. You can expect them to give you names and numbers of people that they have really good relationships with. And that’s fine, but you’ll need to probe a little more when you talk to them. Ask them if there was any challenges that they encountered. What was their specialty? Explain that you want to be as prepared as possible and appreciate their openness.

Now that you’ve done your research, you should be in a better place to start your relationship with the digital agency that suits you best.

About Laura Prael

Laura Prael is a published author, professional copywriter and owner of digital agency LEP Digital. Laura has more than a decade of experience in the digital communications industry and has written for big brands including Google Australia, Westpac, Sanitarium, Weet-Bix, Avon and The University of Newcastle. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Newcastle, and a Master of Public Relations & Advertising from the University of New South Wales.

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