Questions to Ask When Hiring a Digital Agency
BY John Miller
December 5, 2016

Making the right decision when hiring a digital agency can be difficult. It’s hard to know who is going to be the best fit for your company. Sometimes it’s hard to know what you want except that “it’s time to hire an agency.”

This post is meant to help you have the conversations with the agencies you’re considering. And, yeah, I should probably state that we have some bias on what matters most.

The first question you should yourself ask is why? Why do you need an agency? Understanding your specific needs will help you select the agency that can accomplish what you need; after all, we’re all approaching things from a slightly different angle, with different strengths and weaknesses. You might even decide that you don’t need one, and save the company a boatload of money.

On the other hand, the right agency will bring things to the table that your team does not. Particularly for B2B companies, there’s insularity when you work in-house. I was speaking recently with someone who just took a marketing job in a B2B consulting firm after years and years of digital marketing experience. She’s been there a couple months now and can already feel that she’s spending a lot of time focused on industry-specific things, such as trade shows, competitor offerings, etc., and losing her grasp of what’s happening on the leading edge of digital marketing. In these instances, you need an agency to keep you on top of emerging best practices so that your company doesn’t fall behind the competition.

Here’s what to ask the agency you’re considering

When you’re hiring an agency, the biggest job is to cut through the BS; agencies are pretty good at shoveling it. So here’s a quick list of questions to ask; consider this an outline for your agency interviews:

Who’s doing the work? A lot of times you never meet the team that will actually be working on your account. You might be wildly impressed with the charismatic owner, hire the agency and then never see the owner again. That’s a recipe for failure.

How do they bill? Hourly, flat retainer, etc. We believe in flat monthly retainers because you’re buying our value, not our time. Incentivizing an agency to spend more time on a task is the wrong incentive. Additionally, there can be a lot of variability in how long tasks take, especially if you get stuck with a junior account exec; just because the agency’s rate is $125/hour doesn’t mean they won’t take eight hours to write a news release.

What type of content can they create? Ask for samples. And find out who’s doing the writing; a lot of SEO shops hire out their writing to cheap freelance services and the content, as you might anticipate, is almost always terrible.

Do they know your industry? This can be a bit overblown, and sometimes their experience ends up being more like baggage weighing them down. However, there’s value in you not having to teach them all about your business, especially in more complex industries.

Can they have success with your budget? Ask for success stories here too. It’s classic for an agency to show you all their hits in the Times or Fast Company, but not tell you that firm was paying them $30k/month, while you plan to spend $5k/month.

Ask them about other clients’ budgets – not specific clients, but you want to know where you fit into their universe; it’s no good being the little fish in the big pond.

If it’s a PR firm, who are their media contacts? Sales-oriented organizations obsess over this because they tend to think media relations is like sales and relationships rule, but it’s honestly a bit of BS; just because I’m good friends with the producer at MSNBC doesn’t mean they’re going to invite you to weigh in on Morning Joe. More importantly, how will they create a relationship with someone they don’t know yet?

Hiring an agency is a big step for any company. No matter your budget, it’s a significant spend for you, and you have to get as much value as you can for that outlay; otherwise you’re doing a disservice to your company. You need to find a company that’s the right fit for your team, your workstyle and your business.

Let’s talk about growing your company.

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