The choice of a marketing agency is less a matter of going eeny, meeny, miny, moe than it is a combination of hard strategy and team chemistry. It may seem counterintuitive to put so much work into finding a team who would shoulder the burden of your marketing efforts, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s the kind of work that pays dividends.

With Australia being home to roughly 250 major marketing agencies, not to mention more than a thousand boutique advertising consultancies, the task of hunting down the best fit for your business can seem daunting. Below are a few tips to help you make sure you get it right the first time.

1. Know what you want for your business

The fact that you’ve decided to outsource your marketing efforts to a dedicated creative agency is a sign of your readiness to invest in your company’s future. The first question to ask yourself is, what do you expect the agency to help you achieve?

Sit your team down and talk about your goals. What is your vision for your business? Where do you see it one, five, ten years down the road? What improvements do you want to see in your website? What kind of public image do you want to build? How much are you willing to invest in your marketing campaigns? Until you have clear answers to these questions, you will be ill-equipped for the search.

2. Know what you want from your marketing agency

The next step is to go over your selection criteria. Work out an assessment rubric if you think it necessary. Different businesses will have different priorities; what matters is that you’re clear about your requirements. A few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Relevant industry experience. It helps for a marketing agency to have some experience with businesses similar to yours, because a working knowledge of your audience and the challenges unique to your market segment are valuable assets. Lack of industry experience, however, should never be the sole basis for eliminating a candidate.
  • Strategy and creativity. I’ve lumped these two together because this is not an either/or deal. A cleverly designed campaign without a solid strategic backbone founded on market research will go nowhere.
  • Culture fit. Compatibility matters, period.
  • Size and business model. What you want to look for is an agency with a size and business model similar to yours. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, thinking along these lines will make finding an agency compatible with you culture-wise much easier.
  • Location. This last item is more of a nice-to-have than an absolute requirement. It’s true that meeting a candidate face to face facilitates connection building; however, not all businesses have the luxury of being situated a block or two away from their choice agency.

Note: The below graphic was derived from Curated Content

3. Build a list

This phase of the agency hunt can be a breeze, provided you have your selection criteria down pat and you know where to look. Popular suggestions: recommendations from peers and local media outlets, advertising agency trade associations, awards lists, search engines, and social media (more on this later).

Alternatively, you can use intermediaries who can do the hunt for you (for a fee) or call for expressions of interest and let the agencies come to you. Keep in mind, however, that not all agencies are willing to go the RFP route and you may miss the opportunity to take the next step with some otherwise suitable candidates.

4. Research. Rinse. Repeat

While building a good list of candidates is important, trimming it down is even more so. This step requires a lot of desk research, some legwork, and plenty of ruthlessness. Go through their project portfolios. Check client feedback. Find out how long the average client stays with them. Read their blogs. Learn about their core values, their work dynamic, how they roll with the times, and how each of these factors affects their output.

Pro Tip: Observe how they market themselves. For instance, how many of them actively use social media to promote their agency and services? Surprisingly few, if the figure below is any indication. Granted, social media isn’t the be-all and end-all of a marketing campaign, but if it is a priority for you, this is one important factor to take into consideration.

Optional: The Pitch

One mistake businesses make is thinking agency selection = pitch process. While the pitch has its place in the marketing world, it is not a prerequisite to closing a deal with an agency. The pitch process is notorious for being time- and labour-intensive, and agencies will have second thoughts about pitching when the campaign isn’t large enough or when too many candidates are involved.

The below graphic was obtained from fueling new business.

More often than not, you can opt out of the pitch process if you were critical enough when trimming your list. Barring extreme cases, a chemistry meeting should be enough to tell you whether or not a candidate is right for the job. Portfolios and recommendations are great performance indicators, but the savvy business owner will not ignore the intangibles.

What’s the takeaway for all this? You may be a growing startup on your first foray into serious marketing or an established company whose current ad agency has lost its sparkle. Whatever your case may be, you’ll need to go into the selection process prepared. Good luck!

This article was originally posted on Webquacker, click here to view the original.