Top 7 Things To Look For In An Agency

7 Things To Look For In An Advertising Agency

When I was researching information for another blog, it dawned on me that there’s a lot advice about marketing, but not so much about marketers (and specifically how you should discern one from another). Why is this the case? As a business, you put a lot of faith into the hands of your agency. A big part of your growth lies in your ability to make the right choice, yet there’s very little out there telling you what you should be looking for.

This blog will help you navigate through that decision with 7 things to look for in an advertising agency.

1. Understands Me and My Business

Business is all about relationships and the key to a happy relationship is communication. Communication is all about understanding one another. With a solid understanding of one another, you and your agency are able to work together and reach your goals as a team.

When you’re working with an agency, it’s crucial that they understand you (both as a person and business) if you want to develop a successful relationship. It’s crucial because both you and your business are individual entities that are unique. You have your own goals, strengths and weaknesses – all of which need to be understood well.

Some agencies adopt a ‘cookie cutter’ approach when dealing with their clients as a way of simplifying the process for themselves. This ignores the nuances that can often make or break a successful strategy. In these situations, the client feels like they are just another widget on the factory line and the agency feels like a calculator performing the same equation again and again.

Neither of these are favourable because they don’t address the goals and issues that are unique to you and your business. Not all businesses are the same and neither are all owners, so your agency really needs to make an effort to see what it is that you’re looking for. This may even lead you to discover and solve problems that you didn’t even know you had.

What To Look For:

  • Do they have in-depth discussions with you about you and your business?
  • Do they listen to you?
  • Have they identified strengths and weaknesses that you weren’t aware of?

2. Understands My Customers

Understanding your customers is a team effort between you and your agency. You work with your customers every day, so you’ll be able to inform your agency on what you notice from your perspective. A good agency will try to extract every bit of knowledge you know about your customers and factor that into a larger strategy.

An agency that is worth its salt will take your knowledge a step further by drawing on their own experiences working with clients from similar industries and doing some external research of their own. This will allow them to create a detailed profile of your target audience that can be used to target them directly in ways that will actually reach them. For example, a good agency will know when to use one advertising medium over another depending on the demographics of the target audience.

What To Look For:

  • Are they asking in-depth questions about the nature of your customers?
  • Have they worked in similar industries before?
  • Have they done some external research without being asked?

3. Proactive, Not Reactive

Good agencies address problems as soon as they arise and great agencies deal with them before they ever become an issue. Great agencies also look for new opportunities without being asked.

A proactive agency makes a world of difference when it comes to growth. That’s because these agencies will take action without waiting for prompts and find opportunities that you might not even be aware of. They can see gaps in your strategy that could be filled with meaningful content.

‘Proactive’ means a couple of things in this context. For one, it means that the agency is constantly keeping up to date with the latest trends and changes in the marketplace – for example:

  • Is Google looking for new SEO criteria?
  • Was there a WordPress update last month that changes how your site functions?  
  • Is there a new app or social media platform that should be utilised?

But proactive can also mean ‘providing guidance and advice’. You don’t want an agency to just sit around waiting to take orders and not providing any expertise of their own, because it neglects years of experience that could be used to your advantage.

What To Look For:

  • Do they consistently foresee issues and deal with them in advance?
  • Do they come up with unique strategies for growth?
  • Do you feel like they’re just waiting for instructions?
  • Do they follow up on things regularly?

4. It Is Cost Effective

The words ‘cost effective’ can often be misconstrued as ‘cheap’, but this isn’t what we mean at all. When we talk about cost effectiveness, we’re talking more about value for money.

Any agency can give you the budget you’re looking for if you shop around enough, but the real measure of an agency is what they can do with your money. ‘Clicks’ and ‘impressions’, won’t actually do much in the long run, but the return on investment (ROI) they provide should be the number one thing you look for when it comes to price.

For example, if one agency is asking for $10 and provides you 4 leads and another agency is asking for $20 but provides you 10 leads, then the second agency is providing the best ROI. Although the first agency is ‘cheaper’, the price equates to $2.50 per lead, compared with the second agency which is $2 per lead.

Obviously this shouldn’t mean that you blow out the bank on an incredibly expensive marketing campaign that your business cannot afford. But it does mean that you should go for value over cheapness, because this will ensure that your business will actually grow in the future.

What To Look For:

  • Do they speak in terms of ROI when discussing the ‘success’ they have given clients?
  • Do they talk about sales?
  • Do they use real numbers and percentages when discussing what they’ve done for other clients, or do they speak in more vague terms? 

5. Cleverly Uses Creativity To Solve Business Problems

Businesses use agencies for many reasons, but one that’s often overlooked is their creativity.

Great agencies rise to the top because they’re able to utilise their creativity in ways that solve problems for their clients. Contrary to what some would have you believe, they don’t get there by winning a bunch of industry awards for projects that are interesting but did nothing for their clients. While it’s tempting to work with agencies with shelves full of impressive awards, it’s important to not get overly dazzled by them. Creativity for creativity’s sake isn’t going to help your business grow.

What’s important to look for are successful, creative campaigns that got real results for the agency’s clients in the past. You should enquire as to how the campaigns helped improve sales or brand awareness and by how much.

What To Look For:

  • When agencies are talking about the success of award winning campaigns, do they back it up with hard data?
  • Do their successful campaigns have something unique and edgy about them?
  • Are they creative in terms of strategy as well as advertising material?

6. Uses Both Traditional and Digital Media In An Integrated Way

Traditional media (Press, TV, Radio etc.) and digital media (AdwordsFacebook, YouTube etc.) are not two separate worlds that need to be used differently, they need to be used together as one. The real way to succeed with these mediums is to ensure that the same messaging is used across the board for both, so that the end result is more powerful than the sum of its parts. This is called ‘integration’.

Integration happens when you have one agency doing everything instead of farming out different elements of the marketing strategy to different suppliers. By having an agency that can do it all, you ensure that every element of your campaign goes through the same filter (the agency) and keeps the same message across all touch points.

If you let one agency do your TV advertising, one to make your website and another to do your press advertising, you end up getting a very disjointed form of communication with your customers. When people see your brand in different mediums, they will look different to one another and communicate different things. This results in a diluted campaign message.

What you want is an agency that can provide an integrated approach, because then they can ensure everything is consistent.

What To Look For:

  • Do they have experience in all aspects of advertising?
  • Can they provide an integrated model?

7. A Proven Track Record

A great sign that an agency knows what it’s doing is that it has a history of knowing what it’s doing!

Experience can really tell you a lot about an agency, because if an agency has been around for a long period of time it’s probably a good sign that they’re doing something right. However, the number of years an agency has been in business doesn’t paint a complete picture of its effectiveness. You need to also look at the cross section of clients that the agency has worked with over its lifespan.

Agencies that have worked with a wide variety of clients from a broad cross section of industries are highly likely to have a philosophy that works. It’s one thing to have one successful campaign in one specific industry, it’s another thing to have multiple successful campaigns in a range of different industries over different periods of time. Agencies that are able to achieve the latter have a winning formula that isn’t heavily based on luck.

The truth is that the marketing landscape around us is constantly changing. What would’ve worked a year ago on social media might not stand a chance today. So if an agency has managed to succeed over a long period of time, it means that they are adaptable (which is good for you as a business).

What To Look For:

  • Have they been around a long time and have a strong track record of success?
  • Have they worked with many different clients?
  • Do they have a core philosophy?


I hope this list has helped you get a better knowledge of the kinds of things you should be looking for in an advertising and digital agency. This should help arm you with the knowledge you need to find an agency that will be a perfect fit for you and your business.

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