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Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Marketing Agency

Hiring a Marketing Agency

Hiring a marketing agency can be a lot like a blind date. It’s often unfamiliar territory and you often have little more than a shortlist of the questions you should ask to learn more about one another. Some questions for a blind date are usually:

  • “What do you do for a living?”
  • Star Wars or Star Trek?”
  • “Are your shots up to date?”

But in both cases, you feel like you could’ve learned more in order to see if there’s a fit. We tend to get a lot of the same questions from prospective clients, like asking about our experience with local governments or our social media chops. However, there are some questions that we should hear but don’t – questions that can help you determine if the agency across the table is worth a second date. Try these on the next time you’re hiring a marketing agency.

How often will we review results?

A marketing agency is different from a software company or a web design firm. When you hire an agency, their primary goal is to drive results, not just “do things” or give you software and answer your calls occasionally. They should be reporting the metrics that matter – and their strategy for constant improvement – consistently.

Our routine process with every client is to meet on a regular basis – some monthly, some weekly. During these calls, we cover things like website traffic and sources, social and email growth, and adjustments to the overall strategy. The agency you hire should give you an expectation of how you’ll be informed and which metrics will be tied to their performance. The cadence of meetings will determine how quickly your results will come.

What does the first month of working together look like?

This is a simple question that can tell you a lot. If you’re hiring a marketing agency that has deep industry specialization, the first month of working together will be more systematic. There will probably be internal audits, baseline analysis, and a focus on comparing your current results to industry standards.

If you’re hiring a more generalist agency, the first month may be spent on competitive analysis and how you stack up against a competition they need to learn.

I’m not bashing generalist agencies (we were one for a long time); their methodology and quality of work may be just what you need. Either way, it will take an agency time to get up to speed. You need to know how they do it. This will help you set your expectations for how quickly things will get done moving forward, and when you can plan to start seeing results.

Who will work on my campaign, and can I speak with them?

Agencies have countless variations in terms of how they handle client service. The most common structure has an account manager (AM) or project manager (PM) serve as the client’s point of contact with the magic being done…somewhere. It’s not often that you’ll get to meet everyone working on your account. However, you should be introduced to most of them.

Whether you’re hiring a marketing agency on the other side of the world or just up the street, you should be able to hear from most of the team as they work through the various projects in your scope of work. This is important because a single point of contact can misinterpret priorities, or fail to deliver the nuances that come from direct communication.

This also serves the agency because if that single point of contact leaves the agency, the entire relationship is in jeopardy. It’s in the best interest of both the agency and the client to make the team more present in campaign conversations.

How long will it take before we start seeing results?

This one is probably on the “blind date shortlist” since everything the agency does – and the reason you’re hiring them – comes down to results. But it’s worth including because the answer you receive will tell you a lot about the agency.

There are no silver bullets in marketing. No agency can tell you exactly when results will begin; if they claim to, run. When done right, brand-building and marketing take time, but not an infinite amount of time. An experienced agency can give you an idea, based on their own experience, how long the work will need before it takes hold.

This amount of time can be affected by a number of things, including:

  • the current state of your brand (level of awareness, preference, etc.)
  • your budget (more on that shortly)
  • the size of the team on the account
  • past marketing results/current baseline results

No one should guarantee results, but their response should tell you how confident and experienced they are. It may not be the answer you want, but it should always be the best truth that they can provide.

Get expert insight from our destination brand assessment!

What are you not responsible for?

Agencies are, by nature, full of marketers. We love to think about what’s possible. Some of that shows in our conversations with clients; we want to talk about what we can do. But those talks need to be accompanied by firm boundaries of what the agency cannot – or more likely, should not – do.

For example, we encourage every destination client (from wineries to cities and everything in between) to have a local person to be the “boots on the ground” for the client. The reason for this is because we cannot effectively market a destination on a long-term basis without someone to gather the photos and videos that make the social media world go ’round. This person (often referred to us as “community champions”) is where we’ll get insight into social media content, email marketing topics, and campaign ideas.

When hiring a marketing agency, be sure to learn about their limitations as much as you learn about their strengths.

Is my budget reasonable for my goals?

Finally, talk about your budget and learn how it would be tied to results. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 90% of our prospects can’t give us an idea of the budget. Most agencies experience the same. The standard approach is to wait for the agency to present pricing with a scope of work.

I totally understand why this happens. There are shady marketing “consultants” out there that try to do as little as possible for as much budget as possible. It makes things harder for the rest of us. But here’s the thing: without knowing the budgetary limitations, an agency can’t prescribe the best approach within those limitations. We’re often left to guess, resulting in proposals that don’t align properly. They either underfund with a limited scope or deliver an aggressive strategy with a hefty price tag.

Experienced – and ethical – agencies will be honest with you about what they can offer for your budget. There’s an old saying (and a clever website) that says you can only pick two of “good”, “fast”, or “cheap”. Budget impacts all three.


The more informative your initial conversations are, the better your decisions can be when hiring a marketing agency. By exploring areas of limitations, budget, and the ongoing relationship, you can have a better idea of whether your next agency will be marriage material or a one-night stand.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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