What You Need to Know Before You Hire a Marketing Agency

What You Need to Know Before You Hire a Marketing Agency
Kate Headen Waddell - Thu Jul 02, 2009 @ 09:46AM
Comments: 21

Band of FreelancersSo maybe you’re a start up with limited funds, or maybe you’re one of the growing number of larger companies with no internal marketing department and a limited marketing budget. Whatever the reason, when you suddenly need a new brochure for the upcoming trade show, a website makeover, or you’re launching a new product and need to update all of your marketing collateral and send out a press release too – who do you call?

The most well-known option is a marketing agency. A full service agency might have anywhere from 3-30 people on staff and can provide the full range of marketing services from branding to concepting right down to putting the finished product in your hands. Of course, all that overhead has to be recaptured somewhere. That's why agencies command a hefty fee for services, and many will only take on clients with an extended monthly retainer contract.

Now let’s say you just don’t have that much need, or you have a one-time project that will require a lot of heavy lifting and not much after that. Or you don’t want to contribute to those fancy downtown offices. There are options out there that can give you just what you need for a lower cost AND with more personalized attention. You can hire freelancers to take care of every aspect of your project from start to finish.

I know what you’re thinking but…

Some common misconceptions abound about freelancers:

It is easier to just hire an agency because they will provide all the services and manage the project with one point of contact.

If you want one-stop service from a freelancer, ask. I personally have a network of freelance marketing and branding strategists, designers, photographers, public relations specialists, social marketing consultants and even a packaging designer and printer that I can coordinate for a completely turnkey project. Most freelancers do.

The agency will have better, more experienced talent.

A lot of agencies keep their core staff to just project managers and outsource all the creative to freelancers. I work for several agencies in this capacity. The only difference between hiring me or the agency is that they tack on a 50-100% premium on my regular hourly fee when they send you the bill.

An agency will be more professional, and more accessible:

Freelancers are running their own one-person business. That means they are heavily invested in their relationship with you and highly motivated to give you the best possible results. Even if you would be a small fish for an agency, you are probably a big fish for your freelancer. My biggest clients are around 300 people. My smallest are around 3. All of them are equally important to the success of my business so I make sure they all get great service and attention.

Have you had any experience hiring freelancers in your business? Or do you currently use a marketing agency?

Comments: 21


1. Jonathan Kranz  |  my website   |   Thu Jul 02, 2009 @ 11:13AM

Not only are marketing agencies more expensive, Kate, but they may not be prepared to deliver what clients really need. Take copy, for example. Most agencies are stuck in the dark ages of print ads, broadcast and collateral. What if you need content for your website, such as case studies, videos, articles and ebooks? Good luck getting those from an agency....

2. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Thu Jul 02, 2009 @ 03:39PM

Having worked both in an agency and as a freelancer, I have to agree with all your points, Kate. In addition, I've found that even companies who work with an agency can benefit from bringing freelancers into the mix. Bringing an outsider in accomplishes two things - it provides you with a fresh perspective and it keeps your existing team on their toes.

3. Michael Sherman  |  my website   |   Wed Mar 31, 2010 @ 10:10AM

If you are a business with a small marketing budget, this comment is meant for you. What you read above is all true.

I worked many years for the two largest ad agencies in the world, J. Walter Thompson Company and Campbell-Ewald Advertising (Managing Director) and also owned a small AAAA agency for 12 years. After managing both the clients and employees at the same time, I came to realize that one-on-one efforts with my clients were the most productive and successful for them and the most enjoyable for me. I also found that any company looking for marketing help and thinking of hiring any agency, basically should consider carefully their other choice, a one-man shop totally dedicated to them. So I opened one and have been successfully representing clients all over the country as a consultant for 10 years from Olive Branch, MS, a suburb of Memphis.
I tell you this in hopes that you may conclude that I know what I am talking about.

Ok, so what is the advice?

Getting good marketing counsel and work product from an ad agency or consultant will have a profound effect on the future of your business. This is particularly true if your marketing budget is small. Too often, choosing one is a matter of chance, such as their proximity to you. In this age of the Internet, Instant messaging, Cell Phones and Video conferencing, the value of proximity is over-rated.

On the surface, most agencies look alike. But scratch the surface and you will find some dramatic differences in philosophy, ability and in the experience of the account executive assigned to you, especially if you have a small marketing budget.

Why is your account manager so important? He (or she) is the pipeline through which all information flows in both directions, into the agency from you and him, to his support team and back to you. His experience, ability, dedication, availability and internal clout within the agency determine the success of your marketing investment and the ultimate cost to you.

For those of you who have not found out already the hard way what it is like to be a small account at a large agency or work with a small agency with a very limited number of experienced account executives, if they have one to assign to your account, I want you to know how dealing with an agency really works. Whether you hire a large agency with hundreds or even thousands of employees, or a medium or small sized agency, everything still goes through the account executive they assign to your account, supported by an account supervisor who (on and off) hopefully rides shotgun over him. It is the job of the account executive (also called an account manager) and occasionally his supervisor to…
1. Learn your business, your competition, your goals and budgets.
2. Communicate your needs or opportunity to a team the agency assigns you. You do not pick them, the agency does. You would not know who to pick anyway. And a small account does not get their big hitters.
3. Oversee the team progress, get them back in line when they stray off target, and stray they will.
4. Review the time sheets with your name on it. And be sure, the straying also gets logged on your time sheet.
5. Approve or edit their work on your behalf, when they miss the target, again on your nickel.
6. Present to you the agencies work product and sell hard, mostly in the interest of the sale.
7. Integrate your feedback into revisions and hopefully disagree when you are wrong –something that is inherently difficult for an agency account man to do; it is much easier to sell you what you want.
8. See to it that the approved plans are implemented quickly and correctly.
9. Monitor the programs and their effect on your goals.
10. Recommend ongoing changes.
11. Evaluate the results against the expenditure and goals.

What do I mean by Account Manager Clout?

As I have said, no matter how big or small the agency is, all of your input goes into the agency through one man, your assigned account executive, especially in a small agency. All of the direction to the agency personnel to work on your account comes from him, all of the agency work product is approved or disapproved by him or his supervisor and all of the work is funneled to you through him and initially started by him, supervising the support team implementation at the agency.

This is the important point to grasp. No matter how big or successful an agency is, you are only going to get out of them, what this account executive is capable of understanding, explaining, appreciating, fighting for and can get approved by the creative director, media buyer and his managing. Junior account execs have no clout; they are salesmen and hand-holders and deliver to you what they are told to sell. They have to start earning their wings some place. Unfortunately it is at your expense.

And, as far as the creative product goes, I believe that advertising is supposed to produce sales, not just win awards, a simple fact that sometimes eludes the creative types at agencies. This only becomes a problem for you, the client, when the creative director gets dazzled by his own creative team enthusiasm for their work product, forgets about the goal and sells it to your account manager. Unfortunately, this happens too often. Sales go down, the agency gets fired, the creative team gets fired, they pull their awards off the wall, go across the street, re-hang them and it starts all over again.
Makes you think you should be interviewing account men and not agencies, does it not? It should.
If you choose to go the full service agency route, you basically have four choices:

1. Hire A Big Agency: You get the prestige of being a client of one of the biggies, if they are interested in your annual expenditure ($1 Million being the lower limit). What you really get is the heavy weights from the agency for the initial presentation, annual contract renewal presentations and multi-client social events. The rest of the time, if you are lucky, you will get a part-time account executive, whose talents and experience will be a direct reflection of the size of your account, the money you spend with them.

2. Hire A Regional Agency: One or two steps down in all ways from the big boys.

3. Hire A Small Local Agency: They will not have a heavy-weight account exec with the talent or experience to deal with the challenges facing you or programs you want to implement, especially PR designed to get you exposure.
Small companies or large ones with small marketing budgets, looking for marketing help, can find it very difficult and it can be very expensive. This is particularly difficult when looking for an agency that will assign a heavily experienced account exec to your business, if they have one and if he is available.

There is a fourth choice that is decidedly different and better.

4. Hire a heavily experienced account exec, as a consultant, with all the resources needed to get the job done.


4. B2B Marketing Agency   |   Thu Jul 29, 2010 @ 11:11PM

Thanks for the most important instruction and suggestions for the betterment of the b2b source management as the b2b agency.keep sharing.

5. Kate Headen Waddell  |  my website   |   Mon Aug 02, 2010 @ 04:48AM

Michael - thanks for your extensive comments. Sounds like you've really been in the trenches!

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