You know better than to jump into a relationship with an out-sourced vendor without doing all research. As a discerning professional, you qualify everyone—from clients to referral sources to support staff—to make sure they are the right match for you and your practice. The same goes for hiring a marketing firm. You know you should be asking questions, but you may not be aware of the differentiating factors between firms. These little differences will help you make a decision and find the perfect match.
Here are the questions you should consider before you hire a firm for your marketing needs:
- What type of firm are they?
Many people don’t quite understand the difference between marketing and advertising. Marketing is the research, strategic planning, and implementation of promotional activities that drive towards engaging potential clients. Advertising is an important part of marketing—the promotional vehicle—but it’s just one slice of the pie. If you have a goal but aren’t quite sure how to get there, you need a marketing team. If you have an existing strategy and know exactly how you want to share your message and just want to run some ads then you should engage an advertising agency.
In today’s marketplace, most marketing firms do advertising and vice versa. But it’s important to know where their strengths lie and how they align with your expectations.
- What type of marketing do they do?
Different marketing firms have difference specialties, which you will want to identify and compare to your priorities. Some firms thrive in the digital medium while others may have a tight grip on PR. There are specialty firms that only build websites and others that focus on direct mail. Before you engage, you’ll want to make sure that your expectations fall under the umbrella of their capabilities and expertise.
Know their menu (so to speak). That way, you won’t be stuck in a situation where you’re trying to order sushi at an Italian restaurant. Even if they manage to stuff cannelloni with the right ingredients—will it really be that appetizing?
- How do they charge?
This is a simple question that has probably already crossed your mind. You will want to know if there is a flat fee per project, an hourly rate, a monthly retainer, or a commission based on sales. Will they present a budget for your approval? How are overages approved? If the firm is only commissioned for a certain project, you will have to renegotiate for each subsequent project. Hourly work on larger projects is risky without an estimate and an established budget. A monthly retainer is hourly work towards project goals with a set expense each month. A retainer also allows you the freedom to swap priorities midstream if different opportunities arise.
Each of these arrangements has its pros and cons depending on your situation. You can also ask your potential marketing firm if they are willing to work out a contract utilizing more than one of these methods. You may get by with a smaller monthly retainer, for example, if you are ready to pay for larger projects on a case-by-case basis. At the end of the day, you just want something that is right for you.
- What are your deliverables?
Deliverables are the marketing materials you expect to possess at the end of a project. For example, imagine that you are rebranding your firm. At the end of the process, will you have a logo kit? Or are you expecting a logo kit, business cards, style sheet, rebranded materials, focus testing, and an updated website? Or are you really just needing to get your marketing strategy organized and then implemented?
Expectation transparency is one of the most important things in selecting and working with a marketing firm. Make sure you are on the same page and you will never be disappointed.
- What is the timetable?
Again, this is all about bringing your expectations to the surface. Knowing your deliverables, any firm worth their salt should be able to give you clear idea of the amount of time it will take to complete a specific project. With this knowledge, you can work together to prioritize your marketing activities and hold your marketing partner accountable.
- Who will you actually be working with?
Before you hire your marketing firm, you will probably only have contact with one or two individuals. What about the rest of the team? Will the person closing the sale still be around after the ink is dry? You need to find out whom you are working with on a day-to-day basis. This person may be an account supervisor, project manager, or a partner in the firm. Figure out your key contacts and the chain of command.
- What is their experience with firms like yours?
We’re all about giving people a chance, but with your marketing firm, it’s best to ensure that they already have some wins under their belt. You want to make sure they can work with a firm of your size and with your specialties. It’s also important that their team is experienced – and not cutting their teeth on your dollar. Have they created a niche marketing plan? Have they fostered accelerated growth? Are they familiar with the specific compliance regulations in your industry? These experiences will soften the learning curve and jumpstart your actionable marketing strategies.
- How do they measure results?
Determining the return on investment of marketing initiatives is a constant challenge. Not every marketing initiative will directly result in a new client. However, each initiative should have a measurable result such as media impressions, click rates, increased referrals, or social media metrics. A good marketing firm will keep an eye on these results to calibrate and refocus the marketing strategy. Consistent measurements of these results will ensure that you get the most bang for your buck.
- What do you think of their past work or case studies?
Take a close look at some of the marketing materials they’ve created for other clients. If you aren’t a fan of the design or can’t relate to the tone, ask to see additional examples. If the new examples aren’t tickling your fancy, you’re starting to get into the danger zone. But don’t write them off just yet.
Pay attention to the aesthetic range. Does it go from whimsical to formal? Is there a mix of vintage elements and modern twists? Do the color stories, fonts, and photo selects vary dramatically? If there is a good mix, you’ve got a firm that doesn’t rest on its laurels and is willing to work towards your vision. On the flip side—if you’re seeing a lot of materials that are all unappealing in the same way, you should save yourself the headache and look into other firms. After all, you have to be willing to stand behind this work and use it to represent your brand—it’d better be amazing by your standards.
- Do they have references available?
This is classic vetting. Do some investigating! Ask around amongst your peers and do some quick searches online. Are they actively participating in your industry’s associations? Have demonstrated their expertise through articles and speaking engagements? Who are their past and current clients? Feel free to also reach out for testimonials or referrals.
Yes doing some of this legwork before you hire a marketing firm or agency will take some time but in the end, it will be time well spent. When you’ve finally found a great marketing partner, you will feel more confident about your decision and will soon be able to see the results in your practice’s growth.