How to choose the right marketing agency (and the cost of getting it wrong)

by Tim Witcherley on Oct 13, 2021

Partnering with the right marketing firm is a crucial step towards business growth – here’s how to do it while circumnavigating potential pitfalls.

Business 4 min read
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According to HubSpot and in light of the pandemic, the majority of business leaders are agreeing that digital marketing is “now more important than ever.”

As more and more people come online and get comfortable with online shopping and consuming content, the importance of digital marketing is only going to grow. 

So how do you, as a business owner or department head, take advantage of the benefits that digital marketing offers?

You could grow a digital team, which may take years and much trial and error, or you could outsource to a trusted marketing agency with a track record in your niche or area of need. 

This way you get results today, rather than waiting for an uncertain future. 

Do I really need a marketing agency?

You don’t need a marketing agency, but what you do need is to protect your valuable time. And digital marketing takes time. Time to write articles and whitepapers, time to strategise, time to create and optimise advertising campaigns. 

Many of these areas require a fairly steep learning curve and some natural talent – which require lots of free time, or favourable genes. And the chances are good that if you have one, you don’t have the other. 

A marketing agency helps you protect your time and create powerful marketing strategies and campaigns from the start, rather than you testing and failing and crashing and burning before building up a passable competency.

And the good news for you is that finding an agency is easy – there sure are enough of them out there. The hard part is finding one that fits your business like a glove in terms of style, culture, communication and ability to execute.

What to look for in a marketing agency

When looking to hire a marketing agency consider the following six questions:

What is their specialism? 

Some marketing agencies specialise in specific areas of marketing –  such as search engine optimisation (SEO) or pay-per-click advertising (PPC) – and some specialise in all of them, like Cognition. 

Whether you want a specific or full stack agency will depend on your goals. Do you see your marketing needs expanding in the future? Is creating a relationship with a marketing team that can solve all of your problems, rather than just a few, important to you?

Do they have relevant sector experience?

Every sector or industry has its own way of doing things. The customers of different sectors have different interests and therefore require different marketing approaches. 

When a marketing agency has sector experience it means two things; first, they are already au fait with the unique ecosystem of your industry, which will save time. And second – they will have examples of previous work, which will show you the range of their capabilities. 

Having sector experience is not always a make or break factor when choosing an agency. Having knowledge of an industry is valuable but sometimes coming in cold, with objective marketing expertise, can lead to very creative and innovative campaigns. Remember, regardless of sector, people are still people… we all obey the same laws and we are all subject to the same psychological frameworks and biases.

Are your cultures and working practices alignable?

Marketing agencies come in all shapes and sizes. Are you a fresh-faced, creative business who wants like-minded creative marketers to bounce ideas off of? Maybe you’re an outcome-focused SME that wants to know in great detail where every pound spent is generating a return. These values count. 

Likewise, hiring an agency that has similar working practices to your own is an underrated consideration. If you are a reactive business that needs ads and content refreshed regularly it is unwise to hire an agency that clocks off at 1pm on Fridays. 

Do they have a successful track record?

Great agencies do great work and are proud to show it off. Be wary of agencies that refuse to showcase their past work or demonstrate their successful track record. It might be a talented startup agency and you are their first client, sure – but the chances of that are slim. 

When in the process of hiring an agency, ask early on in the conversation for relevant case studies. As an example, here’s what some of our clients say about us

Can you agree on commercial terms?

Agencies charge for their services in different ways. In general, they either charge per hour, per project or via a monthly retainer, which covers a pre-agreed scope of work. Prices can also vary due to location and the length of the contract between agency and client. 

How and how much you pay for your marketing services will depend on your budget and business objectives. Agencies do not follow a standardised pricing plan so shop around, and consider the other factors, before making a decision. 

Can you trust them?

Last but certainly not least is your gut feeling on your chosen agency. Trust is paramount to a fruitful relationship based on shared values and goals. Don’t go for the cheapest agency just because they’re the cheapest – think long-term and invest in an agency that is transparent with regards to pricing and output. 

This will not only save you headaches during the project; it will also eliminate the chance of any nasty surprises when it comes to paying the bill.

The cost of getting it wrong

Marketing constitutes a significant expense for most businesses so the consequences of choosing the wrong agency can be severe. 

Naturally there is a loss of money and a wasted marketing budget, but not all of the consequences are financial. You may also experience a loss of morale and a sense of frustration in-house, as the incompetence of your chosen agency partner begins to show as the rubber hits the road and it is time for them to deliver on their promises.

However, a far more harmful and long-lasting effect of choosing the wrong agency is a loss of market share, or a weakening of a previously strong competitive advantage. If your chosen agency decides to reposition your brand, or misunderstands the needs of your audience, and you buy into their vision, you may find yourself in a worse spot than before. 

Conclusion 

According to the annual Gartner CMO survey, marketing leaders expected an average budget of 11% of revenue before the pandemic hit. 

With lockdown and social gathering limits now eliminated, we can expect marketing budgets to be even higher as businesses try to make up for lost revenue and lost time. 

That means – on average – 11% or more of your total revenue for the next few years will be going towards your marketing budget, and perhaps to a marketing agency. It is absolutely crucial that you make the right choice from the start.

Choose wisely, think long-term and enjoy the growth that comes from partnering with the perfect marketing agency for you. 

Ready to jump into the agency selection process? Not so fast! We’ve created a brand new guide to help you navigate this potential minefield. It’ll help you frame the problems you want to solve, refine your thinking and know exactly what to look for when choosing your marketing agency. Download it below.

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Tim Witcherley

by Tim Witcherley
Oct 13, 2021

As the Managing Director of Cognition, Tim's drive is to ensure every Cognition client gets tangible, commercial outcomes. In increasingly complex marketing and sales environments, his relentless focus on delivering value, quickly and simply, is one of the main reasons why Cognition is now one of the UK's leading digital agencies.