Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide


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Amalgamated Marketing, an Independent Agency Network, would like to share with you our new whitepaper focusing on the top advice in selecting a new Marketing Agency.

Included in this whitepaper is a plethora of vital information about why you need a marketing agency, types of marketing agencies, the agency selection process, criteria for agency selection, and questions to ask during the selection process.

Amalgamated Marketing is a network of small, specialized marketing agencies, that serves two purposes: first to support clients that require marketing project recommendations, cost estimates and marketing implementation. Second to bring new business to qualified marketing agencies. The Amalgamated Marketing network is different than other agency networks by allowing only small, independent agencies to become members, and by providing coordination services without cost to qualified clients.

Published in: Marketing

Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide

  1. 1. MARKETINGAGENCY selection guide MARKETING AGENCY NETWORK The Definitive
  2. 2. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 2 The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide Selecting a new marketing, advertising, creative, promotion, public relations, or internet agency is one of the most important decisions a marketer will make, complicated by the fact that making the wrong selection can be expensive, even career-jeopardizing, or that most marketers have little or no experience with the process. To assist, this Marketing Agency Selection Guide will first consider some of the reasons for both hiring and firing an agency, followed by detailed descriptions of 11 types of agencies, a 4-Step Agency Selection Process, along with some additional resources on the subject. Why You Need an Agency Depending on internal staff resources, at some point your marketing department may require the skills and expertise of a marketing agency. Certainly start-ups and entrepreneurial companies typically cannot maintain a staff of marketing specialists. In fact, the need for a qualified agency may be more pronounced than ever with the marketing mix evolving from traditional tactics like advertising and trade shows, to more emphasis on rapidly changing Internet marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. And finally, a reason to hire a new agency is the need to replace an existing agency. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons for both firing and hiring a marketing agency. Reasons for firing a marketing agency: 1) Agency advice is weak (marketing, strategy, creative)
 2) Disputes about agency fees, or excessive charges
 3) Lacking sales results, not achieving objectives
 4) Agency is not in tune with new media (SEO, social, blogging, etc.)
 5) Agency hired by prior manager/management team 6) Agency has conflicts, working with competitor brands
  3. 3. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 3 Reasons for hiring a marketing agency: 1) Specialist needed for a specific marketing project
or initiative 2) Get fresh ideas for marketing
 3) Seek a new partner that can achieve more results
 4) New managers/management not tied to old agency 5) Launching a new product 6) Entering new geographic markets 11 Types of Marketing Agencies A company or brand in search of a marketing agency partner or partners, must first understand the many different types of agencies. Certainly the size of the program or project, category, geography and budget will dictate the type or types of marketing agency partners that can most effectively and efficiently serve the marketing requirements. Typically, larger, or multinational companies will use multiple agencies, while smaller clients tend to work with fewer, or even a single agency for all marketing needs. Following are 11 types of marketing agencies, listed by estimated total dollar volume including advertising agencies, media agencies, promotion agencies, PR agencies, marketing services agencies, inter- net or digital agencies, direct agencies, branding agencies, design agencies, social media agencies, and specialty agencies. • Advertising Agency: the oldest and most common type of agency is an advertising or ad agency; from Mad Men to the largest holding companies and agency networks, ad agencies were the only game in town until 1996 when the first web browser was launched. The largest ad agencies and their advertising holding companies diversified to offer all types of marketing; the most frequent division was and still is media planning and buying services, but now include every other functional discipline, from branding, to internet marketing. No question, the core service from ad agencies remains advertising. Large ad agencies dominate TV advertising—both creative and media, along with all types of print (magazines, newspapers), radio, outdoor, and Internet. Medium-size ad agencies may provide similar services, but without the multinational offices, or multiple, functional
  4. 4. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 4 divisions. Small ad agencies typically focus on print, but could do radio and internet. Ad agencies tend to focus on retail and package goods clients (business-to-consumer), but will also work with business-to-business clients that require advertising, and/or have significant marketing budgets. • Media Planning/Buying Agency/Service: often part of an ad agency, media agencies specialize in all aspects of strategy, research, planning, buying, and placement of all types of media including TV, newspaper, magazines, radio, outdoor, and online. Like other agency types, media agencies often engage in other types of marketing, most notably, advertising development and market research. Large media agencies are critically important to large advertisers, due to negotiation leverage and multi-national networks. • Promotion Agency: the next largest portion of agencies are promotional in focus, typically working with retail and package-goods clients for promotional campaigns that include advertising, coupons, sweepstakes, contests, loyalty programs, merchandising displays, packaging and related; today many promotion agencies are hybrids that will do all other types of marketing. • Public Relations (PR) Agency: a variety of services encompass publicity or public relations including media relations, investor relations, and crisis communications. Traditional PR activities include news announcements, article writing and placement, and press conferences or events. PR firms often engage in event marketing, new product launches, website development, social media, and educational initiatives. Also, advertising or marketing agencies often provide PR services. • Marketing/Marketing Services Agency: as advertising has declined in importance for all but the largest brands, many advertising agencies have evolved into marketing or marketing services agencies, typically providing a variety of services that could be offered by other specialist agencies listed here. Often marketing/marketing services agencies refer to themselves as full-service agencies and provide advertising, PR, strategy and planning, direct, Internet, branding, photography and video, and other types of marketing. Many small and mid-size agencies refer to themselves as marketing agencies, not ad agencies.
  5. 5. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 5 • Internet/Interactive/Digital Agency: with the growing importance of Internet marketing, social media, e-commerce, content marketing and related, one of the fastest-growing agency types describe themselves as one or more variations of Internet/Interactive or Digital agencies. Such agencies will design websites, social media networks, manage blogs, and more. In addition, further specialization is common with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agencies or consultants, Paid Search or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, e-commerce, or applications (Apps). • Direct Marketing Agency: direct marketing agencies started as experts in direct mail, a tactic in decline, but have reinvented themselves as experts in email, Internet marketing, customer databases, analytics and more. Like other agency types, direct marketing hybrid agencies are common. • Branding/Identity Agency: branding or brand identity agencies are often boutique agencies, or divisions of ad agency networks. Branding agencies provide a range of services from logos, to brand name development, to packaging, graphic identities, signage, and environmental design (typically retail store design). Often branding agencies will provide marketing research in support of brand strategy, and may engage in web design, advertising, annual reports and more. • Design Agency: often smaller agencies will position themselves as design agencies or studios. Design agencies often perform a variety of services including brand identity, website design, advertising, packaging, brochures and all types of print collateral, and more. Some studios will specialize in certain types of design, for example, annual reports. • Social Media Agency: one of the fastest growing agency specialties is social media, or social media marketing. Social media agencies specialize in creating and managing a brands social media networks. Today, the top social media networks command most of the effort including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, along with newer networks like Pinterest and Instagram. Beyond profile design and implementation, social media agencies often manage blogs, content research and development, video, and increasingly web design, and search engine optimization. • Specialty Agencies: we group all other types of marketing agencies as specialty agencies, that either focus on a functional marketing discipline or niche market segment. Examples of functional specialists include search optimization or paid search, packaging
  6. 6. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 6 and merchandising, video, or brand name development. Market or category specialists include different ethnic marketing agencies (Hispanic, Asian, etc.), cause marketing, healthcare marketing, and software marketing. The sponsor of this guide, Amalgamated Marketing, is a network of specialty agencies. A 4-Step Agency Selection Process Now that you have an understanding of the reasons for needing a new agency, along with the type of agency or agencies you might need, what is the most effective and efficient process for selecting one or more? As with all complex decisions, research and planning will improve the chances of success. Also, you want to strike the right balance of quantity of candidates and time commitments, as the process is surely incremental to your day-to-day activities. Like dating, too many candidates will be difficult to manage, while too few may not deliver that perfect partner. Following are details of 4 steps including planning, agency identification, agency vetting, and of course, agency selection. Before we get started, consider that you can outsource the entire agency selection process to agency search consultants. However, you should know that this option is typically only possible with large clients and budgets due to the significant cost of such services. Fees range from 1-5% of annual budgets, or a set fee. Beware of search consultants that charge both the client and agencies, which has been known to lead to conflicts, or lack of objectivity. Step 1—Planning The agency review planning phase includes developing a marketing brief and request for proposal (RFP), establishing a budget, and establishing agency selection criteria. The marketing brief (or a brief for a specific project, e.g., new website), should include company or brand background information, goals or objectives, description of the marketing program or project, calendar deadlines for key milestones, and contact information. The level of brief detail should be dictated by the anticipated scope and budget. A small budget may require only a simple outline, while a multi-million dollar budget may require a more formal brief complete with financials and customer research.
  7. 7. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 7 The request for proposal (RFP) portion will detail what is required from agency candidates. RFPs of all sizes require general information about the agency including client list, relevant work samples or case studies, references, and biographies of key staff. Larger reviews might require financial information. Finally, reviews might request specific recom- mendations, or even creative concepts (with or without compensation). Establishing the marketing budget is also part of the planning phase. Budgets can be based on % of sales, task and objective, or other methods. For more information on marketing budgeting, see the resources section of this guide. Next, identify agency selection criteria, along with an importance rank or weighting. Examples of criteria include the following: • Agency size: will your budget put you in the top 3 clients (to command attention) • Category, market segment or product experience (minimize learning curve, bring category insight) • Experience in the required functional disciplines (e.g., advertis- ing, website development, PR, etc.) • Location: what is the expected frequency of face-to-face meetings? (convenience, dealing with time zones, etc.) • Agency self-promotion (e.g., website, messaging, thought leadership, awards) Step 2—Agency Identification There are numerous options for identifying agency candidates. Selection criteria established in Step 1 will help focus identification efforts. The scope and budget of your marketing will dictate the number of agency candidates identified. Before starting the research and identification process, determine an approximate number of agency candidates to be included on a “Long List”. Large clients (and budgets) might identify 10-30 agency candidates, while multinationals must identify candidates in each region, Smaller clients typically consider 5-10 candidates.
  8. 8. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 8 Now you are ready to research and identify candidates. Following are sources of agencies: • Search engine queries (e.g., search—ad agency Chicago) • Association directories (AAAA, American Marketing Association (AMA), Business Marketing Association (BMA), etc.) • Networking through associations, conferences, and industry events; smaller clients might find local chambers of commerce useful • Referrals from colleagues and advisors Step 3—Vet Agency Candidates Now that you have researched and identified multiple agency candidates, the next step is to eliminate or vet candidates. The vetting stage includes distributing a Brief/RFP to candidates, evaluating submissions, and deciding on a “Short List” of candidates. As before, the scope and budget of your marketing program or project will dictate the number of candidates considered, and the formality of the process. We recommend using the selection criteria developed in Step 1 to prune the “Long List”, to a manageable “Medium List”. Large clients typically employ a comprehensive brief and request for proposal (RFP), but only after non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are executed, as the brief likely discloses confidential information to support recommendations or creative work. Small clients may simply email the “Long List” of agency candidates, and request relevant case studies, references, or a response confirming interest in participating in an agency review. As before, the scope of the program or project will determine how submissions are evaluated. Large clients will typically appoint a selection committee or team to manage the process. Small clients with limited resources may use a single manager to decide on the “Short List” of agency candidates. Sometimes phone interviews are conducted at this stage. Also, scoring or grading worksheets are sometimes employed at this time, especially when a committee is used. +
  9. 9. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 9 Whatever the process, the conclusion of this vetting stage, is the “Short List” that will be invited to submit specific recommendations, creative concepts, detailed budgets, and importantly, meet with you. Be sure to communicate to “Long List” candidates that did not make the cut via email, and of course the “Short List” winners that will be invited to the final phase of selection. Step 4—Agency Selection We are finally ready to carefully evaluate and compare a “Short List” of agency candidates. Depending upon whether recommendations or creative work were requested in the previous phase, the final selection process should include such recommendations and/or creative work, and should absolutely include face-to-face meetings. We strongly recommend that clients visit agency offices, to ensure “they are who they say they are”, and also get a sense of the culture. Some other tips for the selection phase: • Request the team that will be working on your account be in the presentation—get to know them ahead of time! • Ask for typical fees or budget parameters for the types of mar- keting projects and programs you will be assigning • Ask for (and call) client references for projects or assignments similar to yours • Recruit a selection committee that, depending on program scale, is at least 2 and no more than 5 managers; try to use staff with marketing experience (not secretaries or _______) • Use a scorecard or ranking of 5-10 criteria to add objectivity, but also consider your “gut” instincts • Score agency candidates individually and anonymously to avoid a dominant personality imposing his or her will • Openly discuss scoring results and reasoning
  10. 10. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 10 This group meeting and process should deliver the clear winner. However, if it’s down to two viable choices, invite them to duke it out by executing the same test project. We recommend paying a set fee for the test project. Then, evaluate the finalists based on responsiveness, strategy and ideas, creative execution, project management and budget. Be sure to communicate with the losing candidates swiftly and gratefully, and then break the good news to the winning agency. Your search is over—let the success begin! By now, you have experienced just how exhausting and time-consuming the agency selection process is, but also, how exciting it is to find the right agency partner that you will be spending much time with, and realizing great successes. With marketing changing so rapidly, and certainly becoming more complex, there is a good chance that this agency process will need to be replicated. With new digital channels, and the ability to measure a variety of analytics, the need to hire agency specialists will likely become commonplace. Still, effective agency selection remains both art and science, objective and subjective, as skills like creativity and idea generation can be difficult to assess; while managers may not have experience in new types of marketing. If you follow these 4 steps to agency selection, your likelihood of achieving a successful outcome should be excellent. Other great agency selection resources: 1. How to Choose an Advertising Agency (Inc. magazine) 2. What Matters Most When Selecting an Agency (Ad Age) 3. How to Select a New Ad Agency or Marketing Consultant (Business Marketing Institute) 4. Nine Key Things to Look for in an Agency Partner (Marketing Profs) 5. Marketing Budgeting Best Practices (Modern Marketing Partners)
  11. 11. The Definitive Marketing Agency Selection Guide page: 11 Amalgamated Marketing is a network of small, specialized marketing agencies, that serves two purposes: first to support clients that require marketing project recommendations, cost estimates and marketing implementation. Second to bring new business to qualified marketing agencies. The Amalgamated Marketing network is different than other agency networks by allowing only small, independent agencies to become members, and by providing coordination services without cost to qualified clients. Amalgamated Marketing serves a real need for specialized marketing services, both functional disciplines and vertical market expertise. As marketing has changed rapidly in the past few years, traditional agencies often cannot support the multitude of marketing services required by clients, while small and specialized marketing service providers often do not have the ability to reach clients on a broader scale. Amalgamated Marketing addresses these dynamics with a streamlined and confidential process for clients and agencies. Clients simply complete a brief survey and receive marketing project recommendations and estimates. Amalgamated Marketing supports over fifty (50) marketing services, from advertising to website development, along with numerous vertical markets. For a complete list of services, link here. Amalgamated Marketing will add new services upon request. For more information, contact Neil Brown at 630-868-5061, or visit about