Picking the right digital agency in a world of delusion

online marketing, marketers

Working with an external digital agency can have many benefits. They bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to your business, and they provide a team of qualified technical and campaign experts with up-to-date skills and tools and tried and tested experience. But they can also be expensive, pushy, and will follow their own agenda – putting their own needs ahead of their client.

With more than 18 years of experience working with everyone from start-ups to well established brands such as Nike and Bang & Olufsen, I have heard plenty of agency horror stories. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for specialist digital support, or a full-service agency – here are five key things to look out for when choosing a digital agency to work with.

  1. Beware of aggressive contract closers – small business needs a relationship, not a transaction. Choose a digital agency who engages with you firstly as humans and business partners, not just meal tickets or contracts. A good agency will spend the time in the early stages to connect and truly understand your personal and business challenges, goals and needs before talking contract and terms.
  2. Seek to understand – we’ve heard nightmare stories about digital agencies that bamboozle and pull the wool over small-business owners’/managers’ eyes. Avoid agencies deliberately using industry or technical jargon. Remember, it is the agencies responsibility to help YOU understand the digital activities that you are paying for and to communicate in simple clear language.
  3. Strategy first – digital marketing must serve the total marketing and business strategy – not be a singular or standalone activity. Many digital agencies are only focussed on the digital channel – the latest trends, the new Google and Facebook features and tips, and how to out manoeuvre their own competition. It’s critical to create and design digital campaigns which support your overall marketing strategies, address specific challenges and goals, and achieve real results whilst also strengthening the business and brand.
  4. Think long-term – in a world full of instant gratification, quick fixes and fear of commitment, it’s important to commence all engagements with a long-term view. Find and select an agency who you can envisage developing respectful and trusting partnerships with for the long haul. We start many client relationships by writing a three-year marketing plan.
  5. Make it measurable – every dollar counts in small business. Digital marketing like all other forms of marketing must deliver a return. It’s important to hold your digital partner accountable and to measure performance. An ideal agency will create digital metrics which are aligned to your business objectives. Be sure to hold regular review sessions and find the time to constantly review your campaign performance in between.

In today’s digital world I would strongly advise agencies to stay away from their fixation on reach, likes and clicks and take on a more strategic, consultative approach for real business and marketing results. Particularly when it comes to working with small businesses that often have smaller budgets but rely more heavily on achieving real results from their investment.

Mark Fraser, Founder and CEO, Sentius