Using a marketing company

 

Do you really need to use a marketing company?
Marketing agencies are very, very expensive. Before you commit to using one, consider the following:
Most business won't start using a marketing agency until their turnover is in the millions.
You can do most marketing yourself. Read our guides on market research and marketing you can do for free and the other guides in this section to find out how.
You can also use freelancers and interns (particularly marketing graduates) before forking out for an agency. Using a freelancer on an ad-hoc basis can keep ideas fresh.
Analyse where your current customers are coming from. If it's mainly through word of mouth, you could do something simple like incentivising them to spread the word further. Whereas if they're mainly finding you through adverts, using a marketing agency could increase your exposure and be worth the investment.
You might need an agency to supplement areas you don't know enough about. Digital marketing is such fast-growth area at the moment that there are plenty of niche agencies to help you, if you think you could pull in enough customers online to make the investment worthwhile.
If you're going to need ongoing marketing for your business, consider bringing in a dedicated marketing person within your business to handle things. This may be cheaper in the long-run than using a marketing agency full-time and an employee of your business is likely to be more dedicated and knowledgeable about your brand and products than an outsourced agency.
Find a marketing company
Draw up a shortlist of possible agencies in your area who tick the following boxes:
Extensive experience with businesses your size.
Experience working with businesses in your sector.
The right fit for your business. If their other clients are much larger than you, you're likely to be bottom of their priorities list. This is one reason not to be swayed by an impressive client list.
It's often better to go for a smaller, possibly younger PR agency as they're likely to work harder for your money to retain and impress you.
A good track record. Always ask for results of their previous campaigns and for client testimonials.
The right price. Finally, of course, you have to be able to afford the agency. Though you might not be able to establish that until after you've met with them.
Meet with up to five agencies you think could fit the bill.
And ask them to outline some plans for you. You'll have to tell them who you're trying to target and what you want to get out of any marketing activity (in as quantifiable way as possible - hard numbers not just 'I wasn't more sales').
Get them to put together proposals for what return on investment (ROI) they think they could get on your behalf, with the budget you're planning on allocating to the work. This will be a key indicator of which is most worth your money.
The following attributes are also important when choosing your agency:
An attitude you feel comfortable with. Don't go for an agency that seems like the most revolutionary and wacky just because you think you should - you need to be on the same level as them. They're working out how to sell and develop your brand, so they need to be able to think like you.
If an agency feels more backward than you, they probably won't be a good fit for your brand - you'll be able to tell even from things such as the way they dress and the decoration of their office whether you're on the same playing field.
You must feel that you can trust them and entrust them with your business' image.
They are responsive to your ideas but not overly led by them. You should be having an open dialogue about possibilities, but at the end of the day, the marketing company usually knows best - it's their job. On the other hand, if you feel they're ignoring your ideas and taking things in a direction you're uncomfortable with, you're not going to have a very healthy working relationship.
They make time for you. The right agency will always make you feel listened to and valued.
They instantly build rapport with you. Good relationships are key to an agency understanding and listening to you and so communicating your brand successfully.
The experience of the team and, in particular, whoever will be handling your account if the agency already knows this.
Deciding on a marketing company
Establish how pay will work. Look at all of the following as options and discuss which would best for your business:
Per month
Per hour (be wary of an agency who is very pernickety about how closely they monitor costs per hour - do they round up or down to the nearest quarter of an hour, for example?)
Per project (this can be good for the first time you use an agency as it can work as a trial run)
Flat rate (this can be a better option if you're not sure how much work the project will actually involve and if it looks like there's a risk it could take up a lot of time)
Make sure you have a quick get-out clause written into any contract. If they're not making your investment worthwhile after a couple of months, you need to be able to leave them immediately and find another agency who will make your money work harder.
How to write a marketing brief
Once you've chosen to use a marketing company, you need to provide them with a brief, detailing your objectives, so they know what they should be doing.
Set your marketing agency very defined and quantifiable deliverables. Make sure you can measure their results and get them to report back to you monthly, if not weekly. This way you can track progress.
A brief should cover all of the below, in the following sections:
Background:
Description of your business and what industry/industries it falls within
Your brand values and the image you want to portray publicly
Current perceptions of your brand
Description of your market and your positioning within it
Your competition
Your products
How and where you sell them
Brief summary of your marketing strategy
Other marketing and communication activity you're doing
Detailed descriptions of your product/s services (price, benefits, how much of each you have, USPs)
Challenges you face and potential problems you foresee
Target customers:
Description of your target and current customers and how you segment them
Detailed profile of your target customer/s - their demographics, interests, habits, etc
Overview of how they behave and any trends
The project
Your objectives, quantitatively (e.g. want to see a 30% increase in enquiries, a 10% uptake of your email newsletter)
An idea of what methods should be used (print, digital, etc)
Key messages you want to give out about your business and brand
Timescale: deadlines for each objective.
Planning requirements and other work you have on that may interfere with the project. Add notes on any seasonal trends or other factors that could influence the marketing activity.
Who will be signing the project off?
Budget. Bear in mind this may alter depending on what the agency says is feasible, but giving an upper limit is always sensible.
This will all likely add up to anything from three to ten pages of A4, depending on the scale of the project.
Monitoring results
Get updates from the marketing company you're using every week or month (depending on the overall timescale for the work).
Assess at the end of every project or each month:
How well your agency has met the objectives you laid out.
How much value for money it provided (looking at ROI).
Whether you could get better value by doing something else.
Don't be shy of speaking with other marketing agencies if your current one isn't hitting the targets you wanted them to, but do things discreetly. Talk over problems and concerns with your current agency first and foremost. Better to give them a chance to improve before doing anything rash. Good and trustworthy relationships with a marketing agency can be worth more than saving money.
Resources
To find an agency, use local phone directories, yell.com, thompsonlocal.co.uk or just Google 'marketing agency' + [your area]. Any agency worth their salt will have done SEO and be findable online
How to write a marketing brief: http://www.marketing-planet.com/news/how-to-write-a-good-brief.html
Useful questions to get you started on background information needed in your brief: http://www.marketingfirst.com/pix/71152133603.pdf (opens as a pdf)
www.elance.com and www.peopleperhour.com are both good for finding freelancers
The Direct Marketing Association is a trade organisation. You can find information and accredited marketing agencies on there http://www.dma.org.uk/
http://www.brandrepublic.com/ is a marketing professional's bible. Use it for inspiration.

This guide will help you establish whether you need to use a marketing company, how to find the right agency for your business, then how to make your relationship work - including advice on how to write a marketing brief.

Do you really need to use a marketing company

Marketing agencies are expensive. Before you commit to using one, consider the following:

  • Most business won't start using a marketing agency full-time until their turnover is in the hundreds of thousands.
  • You can do a lot of marketing yourself. Read our guides on market research and marketing you can do for free and the other guides in this section to find out how.
  • You can also use freelancers and interns (particularly marketing graduates) before forking out for an agency. Using a freelancer on an ad-hoc basis can keep ideas fresh.
  • Analyse where your current customers are coming from. If it's mainly through word of mouth, you could do something simple like incentivising them to spread the word further. Whereas if they're mainly finding you through adverts, using a marketing agency could increase your exposure and be worth the investment.
  • You might need an agency to supplement areas you don't know enough about. Digital marketing is such fast-growth area at the moment that there are plenty of niche agencies to help you, if you think you could pull in enough customers online to make the investment worthwhile.
  • If you're going to need ongoing marketing for your business, consider bringing in a dedicated marketing person within your business to handle things. This may be cheaper in the long-run than using a marketing agency full-time, and an employee of your business is likely to be more dedicated and knowledgeable about your brand and products than an outsourced agency.

Find a marketing company

  • Draw up a shortlist of possible agencies in your area who tick the following boxes:
    • Extensive experience with businesses your size.
    • Experience working with businesses in your sector.
    • The right fit for your business. If their other clients are much larger than you, you're likely to be bottom of their priorities list. This is one reason not to be swayed by an impressive client list.
    • It's often better to go for a smaller, possibly younger PR agency as they're likely to work harder for your money to retain and impress you.
    • A similar working style to you. Do they make decisions quickly and are they happy taking calls on weekends, for example - and does that match with your methods?
    • A good track record. Always ask for results of their previous campaigns and for client testimonials.
    • The right price. Finally, of course, you have to be able to afford the agency. Though you might not be able to establish that until after you've met with them.
  • Meet with up to five agencies you think could fit the bill.
  • And ask them to outline some plans for you. You'll have to tell them who you're trying to target and what you want to get out of any marketing activity (in as quantifiable way as possible - hard numbers not just 'I wasn't more sales').
  • Get them to put together proposals for what return on investment (ROI) they think they could get on your behalf, with the budget you're planning on allocating to the work. This will be a key indicator of which is most worth your money.
  • The following attributes are also important when choosing your agency:
    • An attitude you feel comfortable with. Don't go for an agency that seems like the most revolutionary and wacky just because you think you should - you need to be on the same level as them. They're working out how to sell and develop your brand, so they need to be able to think like you.
    • If an agency feels more backward than you, they probably won't be a good fit for your brand - you'll be able to tell even from things such as the way they dress and the decoration of their office whether you're on the same playing field.
    • You must feel that you can trust them and entrust them with your business' image.
    • They are responsive to your ideas but not overly led by them. You should be having an open dialogue about possibilities, but at the end of the day, the marketing company usually knows best - it's their job. On the other hand, if you feel they're ignoring your ideas and taking things in a direction you're uncomfortable with, you're not going to have a very healthy working relationship.
    • They make time for you. The right agency will always make you feel listened to and valued.
    • They instantly build rapport with you. Good relationships are key to an agency understanding and listening to you and so communicating your brand successfully.
    • The experience of the team and, in particular, whoever will be handling your account if the agency already knows this.

Deciding on a marketing company

Establish how pay will work. Look at all of the following as options and discuss which would best for your business:

  • Per month.
  • Per hour (be wary of an agency who is very pernickety about how closely they monitor costs per hour - do they round up or down to the nearest quarter of an hour, for example?).
  • Per project (this can be good for the first time you use an agency as it can work as a trial run).
  • Flat rate (this can be a better option if you're not sure how much work the project will actually involve and if it looks like there's a risk it could take up a lot of time) .

Make sure you have a quick get-out clause written into any contract. If they're not making your investment worthwhile after a couple of months, you need to be able to leave them immediately and find another agency who will make your money work harder.

How to write a marketing brief

Once you've chosen to use a marketing company, you need to provide them with a brief, detailing your objectives, so they know what they should be doing.

Set your marketing agency very defined and quantifiable deliverables. Make sure you can measure their results and get them to report back to you monthly, if not weekly. This way you can track progress.

A brief should cover all of the below, in the following sections:

  • Background:
    • Description of your business and what industry/industries it falls within
    • Your brand values and the image you want to portray publicly
    • Current perceptions of your brand
    • Description of your market and your positioning within it
    • Your competition
    • Your products
    • How and where you sell them
    • Brief summary of your marketing strategy
    • Other marketing and communication activity you're doing
    • Detailed descriptions of your product/s services (price, benefits, how much of each you have, USPs)
    • Challenges you face and potential problems you foresee
  • Target customers: 
    • Description of your target and current customers and how you segment them
    • Detailed profile of your target customer/s - their demographics, interests, habits, etc
    • Overview of how they behave and any trends
  • The project
    • Your objectives, quantitatively (e.g. want to see a 30% increase in enquiries, a 10% uptake of your email newsletter)
    • An idea of what methods should be used (print, digital, etc)
    • Key messages you want to give out about your business and brand
    • Timescale: deadlines for each objective.
    • Planning requirements and other work you have on that may interfere with the project. Add notes on any seasonal trends or other factors that could influence the marketing activity.
    • Who will be signing the project off?
    • Budget. Bear in mind this may alter depending on what the agency says is feasible, but giving an upper limit is always sensible.
  • This will all likely add up to anything from three to ten pages of A4, depending on the scale of the project.

Monitoring results

  • Get updates from the marketing company you're using every week or month (depending on the overall timescale for the work).
  • Assess at the end of every project or each month:
    • How well your agency has met the objectives you laid out.
    • How much value for money it provided (looking at ROI).
    • Whether you could get better value by doing something else.
  • Don't be shy of speaking with other marketing agencies if your current one isn't hitting the targets you wanted them to, but do things discreetly. Talk over problems and concerns with your current agency first and foremost. Better to give them a chance to improve before doing anything rash. Good and trustworthy relationships with a marketing agency can be worth more than saving money.

Resources

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