By: Kristin Elms

Date: October 20, 2016

Is it time for a new marketing agency?

Selecting a new agency partner can be a daunting task, aside from your RFP process, your decision can dictate how your business will fare over the next 6-12 months. Finding a partner that you can lean and rely on can change the projection of your business.

To find your next agency partner will require you to look at our own company first to understand why the relationship with your current agency stopped working and identify the qualities and requirements of the new partner you need.

The best investment you can make at this very juncture, is taking time to get to know the agency. Finding an agency partner that shares the same level of excitement about your business as you do is paramount, and will pay long-term dividends.

Here are six areas you should invest time and effort into before beginning the process of selecting your new agency partner.

1.0 Requirements

Before embarking on your new agency partner search, dig into what your business needs in terms of support from your prospective partner. Identify areas where your internal resources are challenged for time, limited in expertise.

  • What are your needs? Graphical? Technical? Server-side support? Strategy?
  • How do your internal resources split the work?
  • What functions does your team cover internally?
  • What would you like your team to take on or handle in the future?

These are important factors for selecting an agency. Understanding your own internal requirements will help you identify the right partner because every agency is different and will have a different approach to projects.

Do-it-all agencies:

A do-it-all agency can can replace your entire marketing staff. They offer every service that you might need. These agencies are generally contracted to have free-reign on every creative aspect of the brand and have experts to support every vertical.

Specialized agencies:

Specialized agencies hand-pick their competencies and can augment your already robust team in carrying out your marketing plan and tackling objectives.

Niche agencies

A niche agency is focused on their chosen channel/field/vertical, and can supplement your team with their specific service offerings and expertise.

At Subtext, we don’t do-it-all but what we focus on is what we know and what we enjoy. Our recommendations are driven by data and strategies we create are the threads that tie every plan together. We have been engaged as a partner in many different formats:

  • Digital Experience Optimization & Strategy
  • UX Design & Development
  • Email Experience Optimization & Strategy

We are happy to help your internal team learn as we go, and can even train your new hire on how to send out an email newsletter.

2.0 Collaboration

How you’ll collaborate with your agency partner is the next piece of the puzzle.

  • Will you follow internal process, or adopt theirs?
  • Do you want a learning, collaborative style of partnership?
  • Or would you prefer that the agency makes decisions and handles the day-to-day, directing where and how your marketing is done or how your project is directed?

Building a website, or even devising a testing strategy can be a complicated task from the outside, looking in. Helping your agency partner to understand the underpinnings of how your business is conducted is critical. Providing an intimate view of how our company functions and communicates will help direct how you’ll work together.

Most of Subtext’s engagements begin with a Discovery and Research phase, where we seek to understand your company’s landscape, product offering, and audience personas. Together we’ll uncover and map your customer journey, establish key performance indicators, and long term goals—all before paint ever hits the canvas.

3.0 Communication Style

How you’ll be communicating with your agency partner can affect your day-to-day workflow. Make sure your potential partners are able to meet your communication needs.

  • What is your preferred communication style and method?
  • Do you enjoy in-person meetings, or phone calls?
  • Are you okay with working within a project management tool, or do you need emails to get your attention?

In-person meetings are critical to fostering client relationships. But these are not always the way to efficiently move a project forward. Sometimes a simple phone call or email can create momentum when a project is stuck. Making sure your agency partner has communication tools to use (and takes the time to teach you how to use them) can help keep project timelines and budgets on track.

At Subtext, we utilize in-person meetings as a tool for conducting workshops, sharing ideas and reviewing creative designs. But we also recognize that sometimes a phone call to talk through small tasks or a roadblock, can move mountains. Our weekly check-ins (typically conducted over screen-share) with our clients have proved to be successful, even if it is a quick summary of what has been completed or is underway for the week.

Today’s project management tool options are endless, and each one has it’s strengths, weaknesses, and serves a different purpose to different users. We rely on our tools to capture day-to-day communication, be the repository for tasks, conversations, meeting notes, design files, signed documents, links, passwords—you name it, it’s in there. These one-stop-shops for digital projects help organize, streamline and make communicating about projects easy.

4.0 Similar Work

Knowing that your agency partner has experience in what your business or project is trying to achieve can take some guesswork out of the equation.

  • Has the agency completed work similar to your project previously?
  • Are there examples or case studies that the agency can provide to show how their work has been completed?
  • Does past work mirror or reiterate what you’re looking to achieve?

Every project is different. Choosing an agency partner based upon their past work is a great path to finding a good partner. But similar work does not always mean competency. To understand if an agency’s work is effective, look at the measurable results that are tied to the project’s objectives.

Review case studies not as glamour shot of stunning visual work, but as a report on the effectiveness of the work itself. Case studies should clearly outline the project goals, objectives, process, approach and results.

An agency’s understanding of a project often goes beyond what the agency’s experience is—its likely that a member or two of the team has direct experience with your brand, product or vertical, just not at this current agency. Asking for specific work examples, case studies and experience will help bring this to the forefront.

5.0 Goals

Your agency partner may understand your project and business goals, but if you aren’t aware that they have some larger goals of their own, you could be on the receiving end of process or account team changes.

  • Does the agency understand your business and project goals?
  • Do they suggest some goals of their own?
  • What are their business goals?
  • Are they trying to grow X number of clients?
  • Expanding offices?
  • Does this align with what you’re looking for?

These future looking questions can help define the level of investment an agency has in your partnership, and what portion of their attention is yours. As an agency, growing with your clients is an important part of any business, especially in the digital world where change is inevitable.

Staying on top of industry trends and learning how others are running their businesses has been an integral part of our growth at Subtext. We are a small team and intend to keep it lean yet powerful. Our team is made up of a group of curious, knowledge seeking individuals. But we are also diverse in our interests, besides our day-to-day digital work we can just as easily get caught up in a medium.com article or building out at a rainwater collection system at home.

6.0 Culture

Find an agency partner that you would want to work for. An agency that holds their mission and values at the forefront of their work, can be like striking gold. A fit that is good for you, is a fit that is good for everyone.

  • Does the agency align with your business’ culture, and values?
  • Are their employees happy?
  • Would you have a beer with your account team?
  • Can you learn more about your business, from them?

As we’ve said before, “(e)nsuring a proper fit, both personally and culturally, [is] one of the most important factors in choosing the right agency.” Subtext has made work/life balance a major factor in running our business. Our values and personal goals are considered at every turn during the lead evaluation process. Our core values speak to this balance, explicitly, and we seek to partner with those that share this vision.

Rolling all of these considerations into a partner evaluation process is a huge undertaking, but your reward will be a successful partnership, business and future.