The Essential Guide to Working With Marketing Agencies

Melanie Balke
September 13, 2022

No matter how efficient your business may be, it will eventually hit a marketing wall. You’ll find that the costs of an in-house team far outweigh the benefits, but you’ll still need to grow.

This is when you need to hire a marketing agency, and finding the right partner is just the beginning. And once you’ve found the perfect agency, you’ll need to establish a solid working relationship.

Enter: my complete guide to working with marketing agencies.

A photo of people in a meeting. Overlaid header text reads, “A Guide to Working With Marketing Agencies.”

If you’re ready to learn how your company can get the most from its working relationship, keep scrolling!

When Should I Hire a Marketing Agency?

A header. An image of a meeting with overlaid text: “When Should I Hire a Marketing Agency?”

Before I start to really dig into the meat of this blog post, let me begin with one word that I am constantly hearing as a marketer: when?

When is the best time to hire a marketing agency? When should I start looking at marketing firms? When should I think about outsourcing?

There’s no easy answer, but I find that many business owners know when the time is right.

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a colorized photo of a notebook. The header reads, “Did You Know? When to Hire a Marketing Agency.” Beneath this is smaller body text: “Small and medium business owners report spending 20+ hours on marketing every week, and 74% say they would rather spend that time on other parts of their business.”

Hiring advertising agencies is a strategic choice, and it requires a certain amount of foresight. Some of the most common reasons for enlisting the help of a marketing agency are:

  • High in-house costs with low rewards
  • Inconsistent results
  • Lack of internal expertise
  • Spending too much time on marketing
  • Staffing issues
  • Stagnant results

The most influential factor is the time crunch. Most business owners turn to marketing agencies when they realize that they no longer have enough time to take care of marketing themselves.

A good rule of thumb: when you’re encountering more internal problems because you’re committing too much time to your marketing strategy, it’s time to go from DIY marketer to client.

Know What to Expect From Your Marketing Agency

Hiring a marketing agency is a lot like starting a real relationship, and one of the first things you’ll want to do is establish rules and boundaries. Before you start setting up contacts and implementing changes, you must establish realistic expectations.

A header. A photo of people in a meeting with overlaid text: “Know What to Expect.”

The good news is that most marketing services will help you establish these guidelines when you first meet (usually during an initial consultation or onboarding meeting). However, you shouldn’t rely on this information alone! You’ll also want to do some homework.

When you first meet with a marketing agency, come prepared! You should know:

  • Basic metrics and key performance indicators
  • Industry standards
  • Key areas to improve for rapid results
  • Target audiences
  • Your current marketing performance
  • Your ideal goals

If you’ve worked with an agency before, you may also want to bring notes about this prior relationship. Tell your new agency partner what you enjoyed about the experience and inform them of what went wrong. This information will shape your new relationship, and it can be used to refine your marketing agency’s services to better suit your needs.

The Dangers of Impatience

Now, as a business owner myself, I know that you want to see rapid results. You want your business to thrive. You want your new investment to blossom into a successful partnership. That’s understandable!

But you cannot let excitement and impatience override common sense! Even the best marketing agency in the world won’t be able to deliver results immediately.

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a colorized photo of a pocket watch. The header reads, “The Importance of Patience.” Below this is smaller body text: “No marketing agency can deliver immediate results. Give your agency time to make changes before you start demanding results! Remember: Marketing agencies want to help; you just need to give them a chance.”

In fact, it may take months to see any solid results. Specialized services and involved content marketing strategies require plenty of planning, and those plans must then be realized. Be patient with your marketing agency, and they’ll return the favor!

Digital marketing agencies are like any other aspect of business: they deliver better results when they enjoy their time with their client (aka you).

Ask for Details Before You Agree

Let me go back to that relationship comparison for a second.

A business' relationship with its marketing agency can be toxic. Like any relationship, you may find yourself in a precarious situation. Obviously, you want to avoid this. To do so, be sure to ask any relevant questions before you agree to a partnership.

Some key points to ask about when you’re searching for the right partner are:

  • Account Team: There are multiple types of agency teams and ways to organize them. Don't be afraid to ask what the team for your account will look like, and why a particular agency uses that structure.
  • Company Culture: You’ll be working with your digital marketing agency a lot, so it’s important that the culture of their company aligns with yours.
  • Past Customers: Look for testimonials and case studies from prior clients on the marketing firm’s website. In many cases, you can also directly contact these clients to ask for an unbiased firsthand review.
  • A Proper Service Agreement: Before you sign anything, ask for a service agreement. Trustworthy marketing agencies will happily provide a list of services and prices.
  • Scale: Unless you’re using a marketing agency for a one-off project, you’ll want to have someone who can grow with you. Many agencies meet this baseline, but few truly realize its potential. The ideal digital marketing agency will grow with your business and scale appropriately.

Set Realistic Digital Marketing Goals

Regardless of what kind of marketing you’re looking for, you’ll always need a goal. You need to have a clear vision for your marketing efforts, and that vision should be realistic.

A header. A photo of a stopwatch with overlaid text: “Set and Maintain Realistic Goals.”

Goals and expectations overlap, but they’re not the same. While expectations may be nonspecific, goals are precise. Your marketing goals will be a quantifiable way to measure success.

I don’t have time to address all of the possible metrics that you and a marketing agency can focus on, but I can review some of the most common.

Revenue-Based Marketing Goals

When your main goal is earning money, you’ll want to study your revenue-based marketing goals.

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a photo of someone holding money. The text reads, “Revenue-based goals focus on monetary gains from your email campaigns.”
  • Cost per acquisition (CPA) measures how much it costs to acquire one new customer. This is a useful metric to track when you’re trying to expand your business’ reach.
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) is determined by averaging the amount each customer spends between their first purchase and churn. Marketing agencies often improve this metric by finding ways to boost customer retention.
  • Return on investment (ROI) measures the amount of money you’re earning compared to your budget.

Social Media Marketing Goals

Now, when I say “social media”, I mean more than just Facebook and Twitter. Social metrics also include data points that are applicable to traditional advertising and email marketing.

  • Brand mentions are a great way to determine how influential your brand is. A great marketing agency will be able to take advantage of rising brand mentions.
  • Conversion rates show businesses how many viewers do what they want. The desired outcome can be as simple as following a link or as complex as filling out a survey.
  • Engagement rates reveal how often users interact with your content marketing. It can be determined by dividing the number of interactions by the total followers or impressions.

Applying Your Goals Practically

Once you know your goals, you’ll unlock an essential piece of the marketing puzzle: the services that you need.

An infographic. A photo of someone standing in front of the water at sunset. There is overlaid text. The header says, “Examples of Marketing Goals.” Below this is smaller body text: “Can’t think of a good marketing goal? Take a look at this list and see if something catches your attention!” A list follows: “Boosting brand recognition, improving your ROI, increasing customer lifetime value (CLV), lowering cost-per-acquisition (CPA), and raising your conversion rate.”

Regardless of an agency’s size, the simple fact is that every agency has its strengths. Even full-service agencies have weaknesses, and knowing what you need as a client plus which teams will deliver the best results is crucial to making the best investment. You’ll want to choose a marketing agency partner that fits your needs perfectly.

For example:

  • A brand that needs more local customers might invest in a traditional advertising agency or an agency based in their area.
  • A company looking for more leads from Facebook will want to hire a social media marketing agency.
  • An ecommerce brand seeking lead generation or increased customer loyalty will likely want to look at email marketing.
  • And all agencies should be well-versed in google analytics.

Yes, this will require a lot of research, but you often have to spend time to save time!

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Nobody is an expert in everything. Even the best marketers have knowledge gaps, and that’s why it’s so important to work together! If you’re ever confused about your marketing results, ask your agency partner about what they mean. A great agency will sit down with you and explain the numbers.

Conversation Starters for Your Next Marketing Strategy Meeting

Some of the questions you might consider asking are:

  • Can I provide anything to make the next campaign easier to create?
  • Has your team dynamic or composition changed lately?
  • Have there been any changes to the team working for my company?
  • Have you seen success with the last campaign?
  • Do you currently have another client in my brand's same industry or niche?
  • How can I help the next marketing campaigns achieve greater success?
  • How many clients are in the same industry as my business?
  • What are my KPIs, and what is influencing them?
  • What changes have been made since the last campaign?
  • What resources do you need?
  • Where can my strategy be improved?
  • Will the same approach be used in the next marketing campaign?

Your questions can range from past and current performance of their campaigns and marketing strategy to custom reporting and developing websites. Your questions should focus on making sure everyone has the same goals, and each inquiry should generate meaningful answers and goals.

Full-service agencies will have more strategies and tools to offer. As such, you’ll want to take these additional resources into account when you’re discussing your strategies. Some of the marketing services you might want to ask about when you’re working with a full-service agency are:

  • Custom campaigns
  • End-to-end marketing strategy meetings
  • Full-service analytics and reporting
  • Scheduled blog posts
  • Specialized services
  • Website development

If you’re struggling to think of good questions to ask an agency, consider the following topics:

  • Agency practices
  • Campaign performance
  • Different or unique strategies
  • Existing services
  • How other clients are performing
  • Industry-specific benchmarks
  • Lead generation
  • Recent marketing shifts
  • Research that you’ve done
  • Social media presence
  • Website performance
  • Whole-team consensus on your current marketing strategy
  • Client-agency communication policies and procedures

Depending on what your goals are, you may want to bring examples of marketing campaigns that you’ve seen. These advertisements can be used as examples, and your marketing agency will be able to analyze them to see what sort of strategies are being used. Having a visual can make finding the exact right words for what you're looking for less crucial.

However, be aware that not every idea will be a success story! Your marketing agency serves a wide array of clients, and they’ve seen plenty of different strategies. Not every idea is a winner, and that’s okay! Sometimes, the best answer to a suggestion is a polite “no.”

Remember: Your marketing team knows best. Companies looking for a holistic and whole-team strategy must learn how to work with their marketing agency rather than against it. The best digital marketing agency will know what campaigns are useful and which to ignore.

Establish Clear Communication

Once you’ve established basic guidelines for a thrilling new business relationship, it’s time to figure out how you’ll communicate. The right partner will be able to accommodate your individual needs as a client, even if it conflicts with the marketing agency’s internal policies.

A header image. A photo of a man giving a speech. Overlaid text reads, “Establish Clear Communication.”

The first 30–60 days after you hire a new marketing agency will be the tensest part of the client-agency relationship, so be kind to one another! Both teams are working hard to deliver results, and a bit of understanding goes a long way.

That’s not to say that you should forgo rules!

For the best possible results, you’ll want to know:

  • The amount of control you’ll have over campaigns
  • How often you want to discuss results
  • How to address feedback
  • How to handle mistakes or failure
  • When to deliver content
  • Who implements content (some agencies will handle the entire process)
  • Who will act as the primary point of contact
  • Your ideal mode of communication (i.e., email or phone)

Be prepared for some negotiation. It’s unrealistic to expect a marketing agency to handle dozens of progress and results meetings every day. Likewise, it’s poor business practice to outright refuse simple stipulations. Both companies will need to find a middle ground.

You may even want to learn about the internal organization of marketing agencies. This isn’t required knowledge, but a deep understanding of a marketing agency’s structure can improve your communication skills.

Flexibility Creates Amazing Marketing Campaigns

Looking for a way to really amplify the impact of your investment? If so, then flexibility is the name of the game.

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a photo of a phonograph: “When your agency has a concern, listen!”

Being open to change and suggestions is essential for any marketing strategy. Unlike in-house teams, a marketing agency will have multiple industry experts who have worked with dozens of clients under one roof. These insightful individuals may spot weaknesses in your current marketing efforts, and they won’t be shy about their observations.

It’s a no-brainer that digital marketing is always evolving, but that means you need to evolve with it. Don’t let preconceived notions or established routines get in the way of progress!

When your agency partner expresses a concern, listen closely. After all, digital marketing is their area of expertise. They’re a marketing manager for a reason, and your company can gain a lot from their advice.

Give Your Content Team Resources

Here’s a tip from the pros: bring relevant content to meetings. You’ll want to have an easily accessible folder with images, guidelines, and samples. It doesn’t need to be a full style guide, but it should have:

  • Generic images
  • Logo designs and files
  • Product photos
  • Relevant product information
  • Sample posts and images
  • Tone guidelines

If your marketing agency needs additional content, they’ll let you know. Always deliver this additional content on time! Otherwise, you could receive subpar results. Depending on how involved a marketing campaign is, you may not see any timely results, as your marketing team won’t have the content it needs to complete the project.

Hire the Best Marketing Agency

There are plenty of different agencies, and none of them are exactly the same. If you’re looking for a new marketing partner, now is the perfect time to start!

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a photo of a glass award. The header reads, “Tips From the Pros: Finding a Good Agency.” Below this is smaller body text: “The best digital marketing agencies will have the following qualities.” A five-point list follows this: “An amazing website, Enthusiastic customers, Insightful staff, Glowing reviews and testimonials, and Open and honest consultations.”

The Email Marketers is an amazing marketing agency that’s dedicated to providing measurable results through one of marketing’s most cost-effective channels. Give me a call, and you’ll be amazed at the difference one team can make!

At The Email Marketers, you’re more than a client. You’re a business partner, and it’s our job to make your business shine.

To get an even better understanding of the agency world, don’t forget to visit the rest of my blog!