What to Look for When Hiring a Digital Agency

I am a father of small children, and this time of year can only mean one thing: new shoes, pencil cases and glue sticks, and visits with new teachers. If you’re a parent, or a student yourself, you know what I’m talking about: It’s Back to Schoolseason.

Recently, while walking the crafts aisle with a school supply checklist, I started to consider how preparing for that first day of class is similar to finding a digital agency to partner with. The summer visits to the classroom, the lesson plans, parent-teacher conferences–it all feels very familiar.

For those of you looking to hire a digital agency to help maximize your marketing strategy, I’ve put together this Back to School Work Checklist, complete with important considerations to keep in mind as you research (and begin to discuss strategies with) a new agency.

Visit Their Premises

In the same way you help your little one map out the hallways of their new school and become acquainted with their new teacher before school starts, actually visit the agency’s offices (if you can). Get a peek at their client interactions, their office culture, and their organization style. This will give you an immediate sense of how (and how effectively) the agency works. A friendly, well-organized bustle with a steady flow of clients is a good sign.

Research Their Reputation Online and In the Industry

You get the nitty gritty on new teachers from other parents in the drop-off lane. Similarly, do some searching online to find out what clients are saying about the agency you’re considering. References and testimonials provided by the agency will show them in the best possible light, but the reality may be very different. Look at reviews, articles, and mentions on social media to get the full picture.

Equally important is the agency’s reputation within the industry. Do they play well with other agencies during collaborations? (Do they collaborate?) Are the executives considered experts in the field—do they speak at conferences or publish articles? Do they do for themselves what you want them to do for their brand? What certifications do the staff hold?

Review Their Portfolio and Case Studies

Like a visit to the office, purusing their portfolio will give you an immediate—almost intuitive—sense of whether an agency is a good fit for you. An agency’s portfolio and case studies should provide you with several concrete examples (with stats) of how they have solved problems for companies like yours. Ask for stories of past successes and challenges to supplement what you’re seeing in the portfolio.

How does the design sense showcased in the portfolio align with your branding? Do you see evidence of the agency’s ability to tailor their approach to different companies, or does everything look the same? Is the portfolio organized in a logical, neat way?

Follow Their Own Marketing

Look carefully at the agency’s own digital marketing. If their website is clunky, outdated, or unintuitive, that’s probably the type of website they will build for you. Choose an agency whose design sense and style appeals to you.

How active are the agency’s own website and social media? Channels that are stagnant or full of poorly created content are another red flag to watch for.

Look for a Range of Talents and Skills

What are your teacher’s special skills? Examine the agency’s range of offerings and their staff’s expertise. Ideally, you want to work with an agency that’s well-rounded, flexible, and versatile. They should able to competently tackle many different aspects of digital marketing without batting an eye. It’s also helpful if the agency’s staff has some non-marketing experience in your field so that they understand multiple perspectives of an issue.

What you don’t want is to get saddled with an agency with only one real skill—forcing you to DYI or seek another agency to pick up the slack.

Research the Types of Packages and the Length of Contracts

You may just need help getting your marketing strategy off the ground, or you may need long-term consultation. Perhaps you want someone to run your social channels, but your website is in good shape, or vice versa. Don’t sign up for calculus if your real need is back in algebra.

Consider your needs and how the agency’s contract options can meet them. Does the agency offer short contract periods (three months or six months), or only yearly contracts? Can you customize the contract to your situation, building your own package of services, or will you be stuck paying for services you don’t need?

Start a Channel of Clear Communication

Like a good lesson plan, an agency should be capable of creating an effective strategy and executing it without constant direction from you. At the same time, you should feel confident that tasks are in good hands: the agency should check in with you on a regular basis to review how things are going and redirect if needed.

Your conversations with the agency should make it very clear which responsibilities they will handle, and which you will take care of on your end—down to the nitty-gritty of who will be uploading content or updating which social channels. You should also get a good sense of how frequently they will report back to you and what information those reports will contain.

Look for Integration Across Platforms

An agency should be able to build a digital marketing plan that integrates many channels, maximizing the effectiveness of each. Can the agency break down which segments of your clientele are most active on which channels? How will they reach out differently to different parts of your audience—while maintaining a cohesive brand identity? How will they repurpose content for various channels and keep the content feeling fresh and exciting?

Discuss how the agency plans to integrate your various channels in person, but also look for strong examples in their portfolio. There should be examples of effective, integrated plans for companies with similar goals to yours.

Discuss Their Approach to Analytics

Another important conversation to have before making the leap: the parent-teacher conference of marketing strategy.

What is the agency’s approach to analytics? Are analytics considered just a way to prove the agency is doing something (i.e., an accountability measure), or are analytics actually used to optimize your marketing plan? Tying activity and action to revenue and outcomes.

How often will you receive reports with analytics, and how robust will the metrics be? Will you see the results of testing strategies, refining them, and testing again? How are analytics tracking and implementation integrated into the payment structure?

Just like the start of a fresh school year, there’s a lot to think about when hiring a digital agency, and it takes time and research to find a good fit. But you happily put in the time during the last month of summer to reap the rewards of a productive school year for the seasons to come. Likewise, the benefits of working with an effective agency that really gets you—your company’s unique brand and goals—far outweigh that initial investment. Do the heavy lifting now, and your strategy will benefit.