So you’re looking for a marketing agency for your organization. Maybe you’ve got a new startup and you need an outside agency’s help with digital branding. Maybe your in-house staff needs assistance with a particular niche, such as PPC or SEO optimization. In any case, you need to find an agency that can address your needs and help you meet the goals you’ve set for your digital marketing plans. Here are the only things that matter as you consider an agency’s pitch:
An Individualized Approach to Your Objectives, Goals, and Challenges
An agency’s pitch presentation for a prospective client should be tailored to the client, their needs, and their unique challenges. The pitch should make it obvious that the person presenting has studied your organization, your product and its competitors, the goals you’ve laid out for the project, and your target market. Be wary of anyone who talks a good game, using a lot of current buzzwords or going on about “what’s hot” right now, without relating much, if any, of what they say to your specific concerns. Ideally, the presentation should clearly explain how the agency’s proposed plan will reach and speak to your target market, solving a problem for them.
If it isn’t clear how their approach uniquely addresses your needs, ask questions. Some examples:
How do you know those are the best keywords for our brand?
How will you monitor this campaign and work to continuously improve it?
What research led you to this approach?
How does this address our current challenge with competitor X?
A Plan for the Future
We live in an ever-changing world, and nowhere is that more true than in the digital landscape. But changes in the real world also affect changes in the digital world, and any marketing agency must understand and anticipate future changes, as well as create contingency plans for various possibilities.
Planning for the future again requires a deep understanding of your business, and how it can best be positioned both now and in the future. This means studying the product or service’s attributes and considering both who they benefit now, and who they might benefit due to future changes. Your agency partner should be thinking both about your current digital branding, and how it can shift as the marketplace changes.
There is no better example of this than the sweeping changes brought about by the 2020 pandemic. Many businesses suffered during the shutdown, but those that survived and thrived were able to pivot and find new ways of making themselves relevant—focusing on delivery, takeout, or online orders, instead of sales in a brick and mortar store, for example.
But just making changes to meet current market conditions isn’t all a business needs to do to stay relevant today. It’s important that any change you make be related to your existing brand identity in your marketing communications. This is the part where some agencies may run into difficulty, so you must learn about how your agency plans for the future. Ask them questions about how they would handle X or Y change in the industry, or where they see the industry trends going in the coming months. The idea here isn’t to see if they’re 100% accurate but to learn if they’ve put thought into your market position and reached a reasonable conclusion.
Representation by the People Who Will Be Working On Your Project
It’s important that you form a good client relationship with the professionals who will be working on your organization’s project. This should start with the pitch. If an agency sends a salesperson who won’t really have anything to do with your project after they land the sale, that’s cause for concern. You need to meet and have a conversation with at least one person who will be working on some aspect of your campaign. If you can converse with more than one such person, even better.
This serves several purposes. First, the person doing all the work will be in the best position to answer your questions and show how much thought they’ve already given to both your individual needs and anticipating future needs. Second, meeting and talking with them allows you to see if you’ll be able to work well together. Sometimes, people simply have very different visions and are not able to get on the same page as a project. By meeting the people you’ll be working with, you may get an idea if this is likely to happen. If so, you may want to consider another agency whose representatives share your vision and are better able to help you achieve it.
Do They Listen to You?
A proposal should reflect that someone at the agency paid attention to your stated goals and project parameters. If it appears that they whipped up a proposal they liked without considering what you wanted, that should be something to think hard about. For example, if their proposal goes well beyond the budget you gave them, that suggests they can’t be realistic in terms of your budget, and this may not be a good working relationship.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should be looking for an agency of “yes” people. If your budget is unrealistic for what you’ve asked for, you want an agency representative who isn’t afraid to tell you so. However, they should do this by pointing out why your budget won’t work for the project you have in mind, and offer you a set of alternatives—a smaller project that can be done with your budget, an estimate of how much you’d need to increase the budget to do the exact project you wanted, etc. Simply handing you a proposal that will cost twice your stated budget is not going to be helpful.
Other times issues arise over creative ideas. Maybe the agency respected your budget, but creatively their proposal is miles away from what you said you wanted. Again, if there is a serious difficulty in what you’re planning, it’s good to have someone point out the challenge and suggest alternatives. However, if the representative just brushes off your ideas simply because they think their plan is better and offers you no explanation why that might also be a poor fit for a working relationship.
What Do You Think of Their Ideas?
By now the presenter should have clearly explained their proposal and answered any questions you have. If you haven’t noticed any red flags yet, you should consider what you genuinely think of their plan. Does it seem like it fits with what you hoped to accomplish in this project? Do you have concerns about its viability, or do the numbers work out? Most importantly, do you believe this idea will work well for your brand?
Sometimes, people ask us what we mean by that. It’s possible that even if your presenter has done their due diligence, they could have missed something, so you should think about whether you see their idea really working for your audience. Sometimes numbers on a page and even market research can be deceiving—for example, in the 1980s, Coca-Cola had reams of research showing that customers liked New Coke, and they weren’t necessarily wrong about that. But we’ve all heard how that story ended. The marketers involved weren’t wrong about people liking the new formula, they just didn’t think about how consumers would feel if they got rid of the old Coke. Today, you might have noticed that Coca-Cola comes out with new flavors all the time, and some of them are pretty popular—but they never stop selling Coke Classic.
So when you consider an agency’s plan for your project, think hard about how it will affect your audience, going beyond the numbers to consider the bond consumers may have already formed with your brand, and how this move will affect it.
An agency’s pitch should, at a minimum, provide a plan tailored to your company’s specific and unique needs. The presenter should be able to answer questions about why they developed this particular plan for your brand, as well as how they see it evolving in the future. Ideally, the presenter or someone present with them should be a person who will work on your account, so you can get to know them. If all of these things are good, you should give careful consideration to their proposal and how well you believe it will work for your brand.