How to Select an Agency: A Mile Wide, or a Mile Deep? by Gil Rodriguez
You probably know a generalist—someone who possesses a broad set of skills but doesn’t specialize in anything. Generalists are fantastic for situations that require a high-level view across a variety of subjects, but they can struggle when asked to solve problems or execute plans that require deeper expertise.
The same principle applies to marketing agencies.
Generalist agencies are typically called “one stop shops,” and they offer services that range from branding, design and public relations to search engine marketing, social media and app development. It’s definitely a logistical allure for companies that don’t want to deal with the headaches that come with managing multiple vendors, but can any one agency offer the same level of expertise across the board?
Here are a few tips to help streamline your approach when you search for your next agency partner(s):
Step 1: Define your goals and objectives
What are you trying to achieve, and what does success look like? These may seem like easy items to identify, but they may be more difficult than you think. Clearly identifying goals and assigning metrics will make it easier to set expectations with your new agency partner. In most cases, the agency team will help to expand business objectives into project objectives. For example, a business objective may be to increase product sales by 20%, and a supporting project objective may be to increase email subscriptions by 35%. A good rule to remember is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
Step 2: Understand what you’re looking for
Are you looking to solve a business problem or do you have a plan in place that simply requires execution? Businesses will often approach an agency with a specific project in mind (a new website, mobile application or a product brochure), which makes selecting a vendor fairly simple since you’ve already defined your needs. You can quickly assess an agency’s expertise by looking at case studies, processes and work samples.
But if your business needs aren’t that cut and dry, you may need to seek a partner that can begin the process from a strategic perspective. You’ll know, because you’re probably asking questions like, how do I target a new audience? Should I begin selling products online? How do I improve customer retention? If that sounds familiar, then a consultative approach is probably the right choice.
In the case of tactical project work, seek an agency with proven specialization that closely aligns with your project goals. Companies that focus on specific services typically have a methodology, tools, and a team of experts to execute successfully within a defined budget, scope and timeline. An engagement that requires a strategic approach such as a marketing campaign or business operations solution would be better suited for a generalist. A generalist has the ability to assess the situation from different angles, generate ideas, and provide a plan that can be transferred to a team of experts for execution.Step 3: HomeworkIt’s important to research whether or not the capabilities of an agency align with your business objectives. Ask questions about their history and invest the time to meet the team that will be working on your account. A company that is open about their capabilities will seek to build trust and help you decide how to best structure your relationship.Step 4: Know your capabilities
The best relationships are based on continuous collaboration between agency partners and your staff. If you have a great tactical execution team, then select an agency that can provide strategic guidance and also collaborate with you on the big ideas. Involvement from internal and external resources will always bring fresh perspective to any situation, while providing ongoing education that will benefit everyone.
Selecting the right agency partner is a decision that takes time and careful consideration. Many businesses make the mistake of choosing based on a referral that may have worked for another company with different needs. Think about your challenges and desired outcome, and ask yourself, “Do we need a partner who is a mile wide, or a mile deep?”