You may be at the point where you have a strong desire to grow, but little time available to devote to marketing. Consider hiring a marketing agency to develop strategies and execute on marketing tactics in order to achieve your growth goals.
By Jessica Shrout

A reader recently asked for some guidance on hiring and working with a marketing agency. We will outline important aspects on finding the right agency for you and ways to know you are ready for outside assistance.

Soul Searching
Outsourcing to a marketing agency will broaden your team’s capabilities overnight, so it is important that you understand what your current marketing weaknesses are and you outline the skills and gaps you need to fill by using an agency. Be sure to consult with your sales and customer service teams for their input on things they need to achieve their goals. There may be projects you can collaborate on that support multiple teams within your company.

Start with a high-level list of projects that outlines the kinds of activities you would like to pursue, like “developing a pay-per-click advertising program, incorporating search engine optimization into our website, or producing educational videos to drive engagement and improve recycling behaviors,” and use this list for your initial inquiries to agencies. There will most likely be other needs that arise, but you may not know what those are until you start the process, so it is okay if your list is incomplete. The right partner will ensure they can meet your needs and help you uncover additional ways to refine your goals.

The Search
Set aside some time to browse the Internet and network with people you know. Do you have colleagues who can recommend a good agency? If there is a brand you admire (even outside of the waste and recycling world), it might be worth asking who they use and if they can set up a brief introduction. You can also browse for agencies and freelancers in your region, but do not limit yourself to geographic boundaries if you are not finding the right fit. Technology allows you to form highly talented teams across the globe. Refer to your list of needs to find keywords to use in your search.

Questions for the Agency
After you narrow your list to some good potential candidates, take some time to review your needs and develop a list of questions for these agencies. Beyond skills offered and rates, you may want to inquire about preferred platforms for communication, average timelines for different kinds of projects and if they have any recommendations for improving the way you outline your needs. For example, your agency partner might have some suggestions or a template to use if you are not already using a formal creative brief. The right partner for you will not only deliver what you need, but also help you get better at identifying your needs and goals with each project.

If you do not have the luxury of a limitless budget, you will want to enquire about an agency’s rates. Projects and your needs will vary over the period of your relationship with the agency. You may be able to get by on a project-by-project basis, in which case you can request an estimate for a couple of projects to gain an understanding of how their pricing structure works. If you have ongoing needs, it may be more economical to pursue a retainer-style relationship. Regardless of the size of your budget, phrase the financial questions with grace so that your potential marketing agency feels respected and valued.

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Organize your to-do list and use these items to begin your search for an agency and to build your budget.

Building a Relationship
The agency you choose may fill several positions on your team: partner, direct report (in a manner of speaking), strategist or even marketing confidant. Like any professional relationship, there may be ups and downs as you learn to work together. As you search for the right marketing partner, consider the feeling you get when you interact with each potential agency. You will ideally be working together for quite some time as your marketing grows, so you will want to find a partner who is reliable, pleasant to work with even when under pressure and inspires you to achieve your business goals.
Make a note of your observations of the following traits as you interview agency candidates:
• Is the welcome you receive warm and professional or are you treated more like a number? Not every agency will be the best fit for you. That is okay. If you get the impression that a particular agency is too busy or not interested in embarking on this journey with you, move on.
• Will you feel comfortable asserting your needs or providing a constructive critique when necessary? You do not want to be afraid of asking for more or hurting someone’s feelings to get the project to where it needs to be—assuming you are polite with your requests, of course. Are you intimidated by this agency or concerned that they will respond in a negative manner? That is a red flag.
• How does the agency respond to your requests? The timing and grace with which they respond might make a difference to you. What about the method of communication? Are they able to take calls when needed or even video chat? Some agencies try to keep their communication to just e-mails, which can be a challenge if you prefer something different.
• Do they make you feel ashamed of your past marketing projects or empowered by the potential ahead? This is a quick way to gain insight into how this relationship may progress: share some previous projects that you are not proud of and see how they respond. Find someone who is honest about quality, but kind in the way they communicate. When you are stressed about other business concerns, the last thing you need is a partner that is condescending or arrogant—that could derail your progress or start a conflict. You need to feel comfortable.

Internal Organization
While you are preparing to work with an agency, there are a few more points to consider so that you are ready to get to work when you find the right partner. Identifying these elements will help you collaborate more smoothly in the beginning and efficiently leverage your outside marketer’s time.

Legal Approval
If your organization has a legal team and requires approval of relationships with outside agencies or approval of designs, make sure you understand those requirements and communicate them to your agency. The agency will want to build timelines for projects and getting your legal team’s approval on something new is a milestone that may add a few days to each project’s timing.

Financial
How does your company pay invoices and does that timing and payment process fit with your agency’s requirements? Be sure to prepare your financial department if deposits are needed before work can begin.

Day-to-Day Contact
You may need to delegate the daily interactions with your new marketing agency to a direct report. Plan for a process that outlines what decisions are made by whom and who to contact for various request or issues. Ensure that you make proper introductions between your team and the agency and continue to encourage good team relationships.

The Right Match
A little bit of preparation will ensure you find the right match, your relationship with your new marketing agency goes smoothly, and you get the design or strategy work your company needs to grow. Remember: this is a continuous improvement process for you, your company and your marketing partner. Keep reading and researching about marketing and tell your marketer what you learn and what is on your mind. Update your marketing agency on relevant company news or changes in strategy. Share your findings on what your competition is up to. All of these things will help keep information flowing between you and identify new areas of opportunity for your business. | WA

Jessica Shrout is the owner of Circle Three Branding—a marketing agency devoted to the waste industry. For more information, visit CircleThreeBranding.com.
Got a burning marketing question? Send it to jessica@circlethreebranding.com for an answer in an upcoming issue. Ready to talk trash? She will be speaking at the Iowa Recycling & Solid Waste Management Conference and at the Waste & Recycling Expo Canada. E-mail Jessica to request a meeting.

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