9 things to consider when choosing an agency

Picking an agency partner can be difficult and a big responsibility. It’s the difference between a longstanding partnership that drives growth and sales, and just another line item that comes out of your budget every month for no gain. Plus, there are thousands of agencies in the UK so knowing where to start can be daunting. We kno what you're thinking, but our team has been responsible for multiple in-house marketing budgets at start-ups and large corporates alike, and we've chosen various agency partners ourselves.

So here are some of our own pointers and questions we'd known to ask back when.

1. Do they understand your business and industry?

Sounds simple enough, but finding an agency that truly understands your business - what you actually do, your goals, challenges and your market - can be difficult. So how can you work this out? As part of your proposal process, ask the agency to outline their interpretation of your business, industry landscape and goals, as well as their proposed strategy. This can be a quick way to gauge whether they understand your business or not. Previous experience in your industry certainly helps too, but isn’t always necessary - a smart agency can learn your industry quickly and bring perspective you don't have.

2. Price

This one is straightforward - can the agency deliver your requirements within your budget? Agency fees differ wildly, so it’s up to you to determine what you are willing or able to spend. Our advice is to be transparent about your budget from the get-go, to save yourself and the agency wasting time. Most agencies will be upfront about whether they can deliver your requirements or not within the budget. Alternatively, they might suggest delivering your requirements over a longer period of time to help accommodate your budget.As with any service, you get what you pay for - so be wary of the agencies that can deliver the most for the least investment. Ultimately, there’s no ‘right’ price point, so you need to weigh up budget, deliverables, value and everything else when making your final decision.

3. Culture fit and working style 

Are you looking for a young, dynamic and creative agency or a more established safe pair of hands? Every company’s needs are different and your requirements might depend on the type of services they offer - SEO, content, digital PR, social media, web development, PPC, etc. In our opinion, culture fit can be important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Of course, there are situations where it carries more weight - if you're a purpose-driven organisation, or a B Corp, for example.

You also need to consider whether you’re looking for an agency to simply deliver your requirements, or if you want to be challenged to try new things and encouraged to spend your budget on the things that will have the greatest impact on your performance. Similarly, do you want a collaborative relationship? Or do you want to hand it all over and trust the agency to manage your account with minimal input? There’s no right or wrong method, it’s down to your preference. But it can help to have like-minded people who share your company values and vision for the future.

4. Agency size 

Should you work with a big or small agency? There are advantages to both. Smaller agencies tend to have a more specialist service offering. With smaller teams, you get to know everyone working on your account, it’s more collaborative and they’re able to quickly react or make changes. Larger agencies tend to be a one-stop shop and are able to service all your needs in-house. This can be a plus if you're a lean team with a large budget and want access to a wide variety of skills without having to manage multiple agencies. Generally you'll pay more for these kinds of bundled services, and you may end up compromising on just how specialist the skills are. Most full-service agencies still specialise more in one or some areas than others.

For small to medium brands, working with smaller agencies ensures you’re not going to be sidelined for the big brand clients, and is more likely to suit your budget too. That said, big brands are also increasingly opting to work with smaller agencies and enjoying the benefits.

5. Staff turnover

There’s no harm in asking for staff turnover figures (or you can check agency LinkedIn page insights). Constant change in your support team can be disruptive, resulting in lost communication, slow progress and extra time required from you to help onboard them. It could also be a sign of wider issues within the agency. Of course, as in all businesses, people will come and go, but you want to ensure it’s not a regular occurrence.

6. Can they demonstrate results and ROI? 

You want confidence in return for your investment. Can the agency demonstrate results that they’ve achieved for other clients? We always recommend asking for case studies, and quizzing the agency on certain numbers if needed. Results can be unpredictable (such as how much traffic you will receive or how many links a campaign will deliver) but an agency should be able to give ballpark figures or commit to minimum level KPIs. After all, if they cannot demonstrate clear results then why should you hand over your money?

By the same token, if an SEO agency guarantees results, you should be sceptical. There are no guarantees in our channel - Google changes every day, and so do your competitors - so they're promising results they don't have control over to close a quick sale. And if you hear the words "We guarantee to get you on page 1," it's time to walk away. The best SEOs are questioning, not cocky. These kinds of promises come from black hat SEOs who might just get you some fast results, but will likely get you penalised by Google longer-term.

7. What do other clients think of them?

Who better to ask what it’s like to work with an agency than their existing (or past) clients. Ask the agency for testimonials or a client contact you can speak to for honest and unfiltered feedback. Usually client partners will be readily showcased on an agency website, so you could even use Linkedin to find contact details and reach out independently.

8. Are they excited to work with you?

An important point to consider is if the agency seems excited to work with you. Beyond the financial incentive, you want an agency who truly understands the value of your product or service, and is excited about helping you reach your growth opportunity goals.

9. Is there a trial period?

Finally, even with every due diligence, it’s not until you start working with an agency that you can truly gauge whether it's a successful partnership or not. For that reason, if you don’t want to make a 12-month commitment, ask for a 3-month trial contract and go from there. If the agency isn’t willing to offer that, consider if there might be a reason why.

In summary

If you have any other tips for choosing an agency partner, feel free to share them with us. Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss agency support from Melt Digital, please get in touch and feel free to ask any of the above questions - we’d be happy to answer them for you.

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