10 Key Criteria for Evaluating a Digital Agency

By October 17, 2016Industry Updates

Companies and brands are increasingly turning to specialised, digital marketing agencies to help them make the most of the explosion in digital sales and marketing opportunities.  Very often, the key driver in partnering with a specialist digital marketing agency is the realisation that in-house teams or traditional marketing agencies don’t have the specialist knowledge and resources required to bridge the widening digital skills gaps.  A recent report conducted by the Chief Marketing Council showed that only 9% of Senior Marketers believed that traditional ad agencies were doing a good job of evolving and extending their services and capabilities in the digital age.

The explosive growth in digital engagement and media consumption has shaken up the media and marketing landscape and seen the emergence of a wondrous array of specialist marketing agencies, while the large and established agencies have been wildly scrambling to adapt their service offerings, to include key digital marketing services.

Brands looking to work with digital marketing partners, to extend their capabilities and enhance their performance online, are now confronted with a myriad of competing agency models, all claiming to be the best.  To help you work out which model and approach is best for your business situation, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 top factors that Brand and Marketing Managers, should consider, when selecting a digital agency.

Top 10 Factors to Consider when Selecting a Digital Agency

  1. Agency Size – This one really goes without saying, but it can’t be stressed enough.  It is vitally important from a client perspective to get this balance right, as it will dictate the level of service and priority you are given.  Any Marketing Manager that has found themselves in the bottom end of the agency’s client list will likely know this experience all too well – You are not the priority and your work (even the urgent stuff) gets turned around after everyone else’s and probably worst of all, your business occupies little of the agency’s strategic or creative thinking.   If however, you ‘tip the scales’ too far in the opposite direction, you end up with effectively the same issue  and your agency team won’t be able to cope with the demands you need to drive your digital strategy.  If you are engaging a marketing agency in one or just a couple of digital channels, as opposed to a full-service offering, this is more manageable for your agency and it isn’t quite such a large consideration.  Speed of responsive and ‘nimbleness’ is a very important factor for effective digital marketing and you want to ensure that your agency is more like a jet ski and less like an oil tanker.
  2. Agency Model: Digital Channel Specialist vs Digital Full Service – There are a wide variety of thoughts on this subject, but the right approach really comes down to the individual client’s circumstances around internal management resource (both quantity and acumen), client expectations and budget, all of which should be considered carefully.   If you are in the envious position of commanding very substantial digital marketing budgets, a multi-agency approach can allow you to handpick a ‘dream-team’ of specialists; digital strategy, design, development, search and social agencies and get them to all pull together for the greatest good.   This approach has it’s obvious down-side and needs to be very carefully coordinated and meticulously managed to be effective, and is really only for those with the deepest of pockets and the grandest of ambitions.  For the rest of us mere mortals, the choice is really between outsourcing certain aspects of the digital marketing mix to specialised, single-offering providers, or partnering with a full-service digital agency.  Again, situational specifics, most notably budget and expectations will determine the best approach, but as a general rule of thumb, if you want tightly co-ordinated and coherent digital marketing campaigns, that touch on aspects of creative, design and development, online advertising, search or social, partnering with a full-service digital agency makes a huge amount of sense for a myriad of reasons.
  3. Digital Marketing with a big ‘M’ – Despite the stream of ‘click-baity’ headlines and Linkedin posts heralding the death of marketing in the age of digital, anyone that knows the difference between ‘marketing’ as business methodology as opposed to simply a tactical sales promotion, knows that this is complete rubbish – Understanding and anticipating customer’s needs, and managing them profitably isn’t going out of style anytime soon.  If you are looking to partner with a digital agency and are looking for them to create digital strategies that drive real sales and marketing results, make sure that they are heavy-weight marketers as well as technologists.  I personally wouldn’t want someone who hasn’t got at least a medical degree to remove my appendix and by the same token I wouldn’t want someone without a marketing specialisation developing my digital marketing strategy.  Find out which team members are doing the ‘big thinking’ and the planning on your account and make sure that they are suitably qualified with a long and proven track record in marketing communications or equivalent discipline.
  4. Do they REALLY understand your Data and Analytics? – This is another fundamental that transcends design aesthetics and campaign tactics.  Data, whether it’s campaign interactions, website user engagement or conversion analysis, is the underlying currency in digital media and marketing and your digital marketing agency needs to not only really understand this, but be hugely passionate about it.  A good digital partner will not only be able to tell you what is happening with your campaign and website traffic, but why, and how you can implement changes and strategies.  It’s useful in many cases to provide prospective digital agencies with Google Analytics access to your account (subject to signing a non-disclosure agreement) and ask for an analysis or review of your data.  It is worth following through and requesting a formal analysis and meeting to discuss their findings.  Someone that is highly competent in data analysis, will come across with great confidence and be able to share important insights with you about the current state and history of your users, traffic sources and site content along with key recommendations.  Asking if the agency or key team members are Google Analytics Certified should also reveal their commitment to Analytics, as these qualifications serve as a high-water mark for digital professionals.
  5.  Portfolio and Client Case  Studies –  Creative portfolios and client case studies can tell you a lot about the agency’s pedigree and show you where their core capabilities lie. Most digital agencies publish their creative portfolios on their websites and it’s worth checking out see they types of projects and quality of work they produce.  Client case studies are also a very good indicator of agency performance and campaign effectiveness.  Most often, agencies won’t publish detailed client case studies on their website, but will normally be happy to showcase these as part of a credentials presentation or pitch.
  6. Reputation and Client References – Any digital agency with a proven track record of performance will easily be able to wheel out a list of absolutely ‘glowing’ client references that are able to speak to the amazing results they have seen and the quality of service they have received.  While client testimonials published on agency websites or even Google reviews may give a decent indication (or raise some red flags), it may be worth digging a little deeper, doing further research and even making some direct inquiries to see how their existing clients feel about their services.
  7. Professional Industry Accreditations and Affiliations – Agencies that are genuinely invested in professional development and best practice will have relevant industry alignments and professional association memberships. There are a number of reputable professional accreditations that require active engagement in continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and adherence of industry best practices that clients can have confidence in.  For instance, Google Partner Agency and Google Analytics Certified Partner Agency accreditations stand as highly-regarded, digital agency certifications.  Additional industry association memberships, such as those offered by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Marketing Association demonstrate a long-term commitment to industry serving as an indication of continual development and adherence to standards.
  8. Innovation and Thought Leadership – This is somewhat dependant of the role that you are looking for your agency partner to fulfill, but certainly, if you’re looking for innovation and cutting-edge solutions, a demonstrable record of thought-leadership and innovation should feature highly.  This is slightly harder to assess, but certainly recognised industry awards and speaking at high-profile, digital marketing industry events is a good indication that the agency has something of note to say for themselves and their work.  Other indicators include their blog content, published articles in industry websites and magazines, and even their profile and network presence on key social networks.
  9. Exclusivity – This is not a question that gets asked nearly as often as it probably should.  If it’s important to you (and it usually is), given the nature of the services that you are asking the agency to undertake, ask outright if the agency represents any competitive clients, or if there are any conflicts of interest in them managing your account.  It often comes as a horrible stab in the back for clients to learn that their existing agency team is playing both sides of the fence and working for competitive interests.  Obviously, this doesn’t matter so much for web development services and the like, but certainly, in the regards to strategy, search and social if there is a clear conflict of interest this should be surfaced before engaging an agency.  It is not uncommon for agencies to ask a client to pay a healthy premium for ‘category exclusivity’ and depending on the breadth of categories and the scope of services, this is a fair request, as the client is effectively asking the agency to limited their revenue potential and turn away business.
  10. Alignment, Trust and Rapport – Last, but by no means least, the overall client-agency fit is a huge factor that needs to be ‘baked into’ the overall equation.  An open and frank discussion early in the proceedings about the direction the agency is taking and their ambitions should reveal some important information about your overall alignment of interests, and the potential for a long-term partnership.  One-off projects aside, client-agency relationships that produce amazing work and great results are very often the result of a long-term investment on both sides. This is something that requires some level of nurturing and trust.  Trustworthiness and a genuine rapport with your key agency contact in also very important.   In addition to sharing in ‘big wins’, there is likely going to be slightly darker days when tough calls have to be made and it genuinely goes along way, if you know that your agency counterpart has got your back and will support you, in both good, as well as more challenging times.

About Storm IMC

Storm IMC is a full-service digital marketing agency based in Auckland and has developed a reputation for excellence in digital marketing. If you are looking to partner leading digital marketing agency and want to see what is possible contact us today and arrange an obligation free consultation.

 

 

 

Author Ronan

Ronan Nichol is the Senior Strategist & Managing Director of Storm IMC Ltd, New Zealand. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ronan calls Auckland his home since 2005.

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