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Established 2009

So You’re Thinking About Hiring An Advertising Agency…

If you’re ready to start a conversation, we’re ready to talk. Contact MindEcology.


If you’re thinking about hiring an advertising or marketing agency – or wondering if you’re ready for it – or if you’re not sure how to get the conversation started – or if you just want to know the meaning of life – we can help. We’ll save the meaning of life conversation for another day, but in the meanwhile:

How to know if you’re ready to start talking to an agency:

The long and short of it is that if you’re thinking about it, you’re probably ready. That being said, here are some specific indicators that it’s time to bring on some high-powered agency help:

– If you’re dissatisfied with sluggish marketing results or marketing misfires.
– If you’re ready to differentiate yourself from (or crush) the competition.
– If you or your marketing team is overwhelmed, under water, and unsure how to prioritize.
– If you’ve got a big problem or challenge on the horizon.

Is there ever a “bad” time to talk to an agency? Not really, but if you’re in a scenario where a lot of things are in flux or murky (like a major transition or the embryonic talking stages of a start-up) you may have to have a follow-up conversation (if not several) after you nail down your business objectives or get a better idea of your marketing budget.

How to hire the right agency for you:

When you’re sizing up agencies, think about something we like to call the Question Test. It goes something like this: (A) If you were to shake anyone on the agency team out of their sleep in the middle of the night and ask them a marketing question, do you think you’d get a coherent answer? (B) Can you picture yourself calling a team member unexpectedly during the business day with the same question and getting an even more meaningful response?

In other words, you want to hire a team with knowledge that runs deep – and one’s that approachable. An agency you can picture you and your team working on projects together, eating lunch with, solving problems. That doesn’t mean that you have to hire someone who looks just like you, by the way. With the right chemistry, a button-down B2B company and an artsy-edgy agency team (or vice versa) can work very well together, even though they don’t seem to have much in common. The idea is to pick a team that you feel comfortable with – a team that you believe has appreciation and understanding of your vision for your business.

It’s also important to hire a team that demonstrates leadership. Some agencies show their faith in their skills and knowledge with a little swagger, others prefer to demonstrate a quieter kind of confidence. There’s no right or wrong as far as agency personality types go – you just want to make sure that you’re teaming up with someone who is not afraid to speak up and who knows how to present their ideas with conviction.

Other criteria to consider when hiring an agency:

Communication styles (Face to face, telemeeting, weekly calls, etc.)
Reputation (Taken in context with your own interactions with the team.)
Listening skills (Are they hearing you, or always waiting for their turn to talk?)
Smart questions (Do they seek clarification and ask “Why didn’t we think of that” types of questions?)

How to ask for a proposal:

Contact an agency and say this: “I’d like a proposal”. Seriously, it really is that easy to start a conversation with an agency (and if it’s not, maybe you need to move on to the next agency.) If you’re dealing with a shop like ours, you can even ask for an informal proposal, which means we’d put together a quick bullet-point list of the services we think you might need, based on our estimate of your situation, and a ballpark price range.

If you’re just wanting to kick the tires a bit, you can usually accomplish that by reviewing agency websites, blogs, social media, and so forth – you might even want to find out if any of the principals are slated to present at an upcoming event or attend a networking function, and then make a point of attending yourself.

Like most people in business, agency pros don’t appreciate having their time wasted with low-interest or trivial inquiries. So avoid the urge to ask for a meeting, call, or proposal when you’re just “curious” – agencies have a way of figuring that out, and it may be difficult for you to get that agency’s attention later down the road when you’re actually ready to get down to business.

BUT: Don’t be afraid to start a conversation when you’re not sure what you need, or if certain details of the potential scope of work seem murky. If you’re talking to the right kinds of agencies, they’ll be willing to sit down with you or spend some time on a call helping you inject some clarity into the situation. Remember, you’re looking for expert help because you don’t have all the answers – if you did, you wouldn’t need an agency, would you?

Some of the facts that a marketing or advertising agency will find helpful when they are creating a targeted proposal are:

– The bottom line objective for your marketing, or for the piece of marketing you’re wanting help with. Awareness? Lead generation? Positioning? Sales growth? Not sure?
– A timeline, if the work is going to be project specific.
Frequency or quantity (“We need copy revisions to 20 pages on our website”).
– Anything that gives the agency insight into what’s going on in your company’s brain. (“We want to do something that’s similar to this campaign that our peers in Nebraska did last year.”)
Specifics about the proposal format. If you have something in mind (like in the case of an RFP scenario where multiple agencies are going to be evaluated) it makes sense to provide guidelines or a proposal template document. Be as specific as you like – but stick to the criteria. If you have a scoring system that only gives 10% weight to an agency’s creative, for example, then it’s not fair to later turn around and hire the shop that presented the prettiest pictures or the most creative samples.

And lastly: A rundown of your current marketing/business challenges. Even if you think they don’t relate to the proposal you’re asking for, we’d like to know about them. We may be able to spot a link, connection or opportunity that we’d like to introduce into the conversation .

Related Articles:
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“The ‘I Know A Guy’ Approach to Hiring Marketing Services”
The Perils of Marketing Pigeon Holes
Does It Make Sense to Do Your Own Creative?”