Why are you reading this post? You may be shopping around for a digital agency to partner with. You may already work with a digital agency. This post may help you realize that you need to partner with a new agency because yours just isn’t cutting it! Or it may help you define how you will vet a new agency for your coming marketing projects. Either way you will gain insight into what you need to demand from digital agencies to ensure your project succeeds now or later down the road.
1. Skills and Services
The first and most obvious thing to look for when vetting agencies is whether or not they have the capabilities to deliver the solution you need. However, just listing these skills and services on their website or marketing materials are not evidence enough that they can produce at a high level. I encourage you to look at the relevant work in their portfolio and ask some questions: Does it meet your quality standards? What were the results of this work? How does their work compare to other agencies on your list? Have they produced anything similar to what your needs are right now?
In addition to comparing the agency’s skills and services to your current needs I urge you to look wider and see if the company can deliver for other initiatives you will have in the future. You should always be looking for an agency to partner with long-term instead of one to just complete the task at hand today. Once you develop a partnership, that agency will be able to deliver more value in the future because they will already understand your business, your brand, your goals, and objectives. They will be an organization that you can trust to always have your best interests at heart and guide you towards success over the long haul.
Agencies that excel do so because of a tried and true execution process that they have perfected over the years. Ask the agencies on your list not just “can” they complete the project at hand but “how” will they complete the project.
All projects will require collaboration between you and the agency and you need to understand how the process will affect that collaboration and ultimately, the outcome.
There are many different processes in which agencies operate. These can include agile and waterfall methods or some derivative of each. It is always good to understand these processes and how they impact the project and the relationship. Some might not be right for you from the beginning, and some could present problems throughout the project in areas such as scope change and budget management.
3. Business Practices
It is important to understand how the business relationship with your agency partner will be setup. This arrangement includes knowing their billing model, invoice frequency, any additional fees that are not clear up front. There are others, but I think these are the most important. If you are not careful in the business practices category, you can run into issues such as an agency that under bids projects with the intention of making up costs through add-on fees throughout the project. Or you may run into one that doesn’t communicate throughout the process and hits you with a bill considerably over the estimate once the project is complete.
Another critical requirement you should have requesting insight into how the agency handles intellectual property and ownership of the assets involved in the project. You do not want to get held hostage for the work you have paid for nor have the agency turn around and sell the same exact solution to another competitor.
In today’s social world, reputations are gold and are managed by those who interact with the agency at various levels. Reputation is something that all business try to manage, but none can adequately control. I encourage you to spend some time researching your potential agency through any and all social channels to get an understanding of how others view them.
This research should include not only major social networks, but also any press releases, customer testimonials, and Better Business Bureau ratings you can find.
In addition to the social elements, there are other factors that impact an agency’s reputation. These include recognition for their work from respected outlets. Prestigious awards and articles in major publications can also give insight into their reputation. Keep in mind when reviewing published articles, there is a vast difference between an article written by the agency and one written about the agency by an unbiased source.
5. Ability to Deliver Value
This last one is most important – the ability to deliver value. You have to determine whether or not the agency can provide value and how much value they can deliver for your project. Value is determined in many ways, but it is not as simple as calculating the total cost of the project. A company that delivers the cheapest solution, but misses the mark on quality or effectiveness and doesn’t guide you through the unseen perils and risks of decisions that you are making does not offer value. An agency that costs more but delivers the solution with high quality while guiding you in the decisions to drive success both in the short-term and long-term offers much more value. Of course, the difference in cost between two such agencies is still a big factor, but cost alone should never be the sole determination of value.
Anytime you are contracting an agency to work on a marketing or technical initiative, you are making an investment. Like any investment, you want to maximize your ROI. Investments typically offer their greatest returns over the long-haul, and it is a risky game to try and turn a dime into a dollar overnight. Any savvy investor will tell you there are far more things to look at than the price of the stock today and your personal feeling of the brand in which you are investing. You have to consider all the factors.
The main point here is that it will always benefit you to do your due diligence and weigh all of these factors. Taking all of the advice I have shared in this article and researching everything will take considerable time. Sometimes the pace of business does not often afford us that luxury.
I leave it to you to decide what is most important and where you will focus your efforts in the agency vetting process. Good luck!