Gini Dietrich

Guide to Hiring a Digital Agency

By: Gini Dietrich | May 9, 2013 | 
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Guide to Hiring a Digital AgencyWe live in a crazy world right now. Social media has completely turned business communications on its head.

To boot, technology is changing more quickly than ever before.

It took the following technologies to reach 50 million users:

  • Radio – 38 years;
  • TV – 13 years;
  • The Internet – four years;
  • iPod – three years;
  • Facebook added 100 million users in just nine months; and
  • iPod app downloads hit one billion in nine months.

In 2011, alone, we had two big social networks introduced – Google+ and Pinterest – and the latter is the fastest growing social network…ever.

It’s no wonder business leaders are sitting back, scratching their heads, and trying to figure out not only how to keep up, but how to hire the right team of professionals to do the work.

So how do you do it?

Hiring a Digital Agency

Depending on where your business is, it typically is most cost-efficient to hire a digital agency. While you could hire a full-time employee for the same amount you’d pay an agency, the benefit is you have a team of people dedicated to your business so there is a lot of different expertise focused on your goals.

But finding the right digital agency isn’t always easy. Should you hire the one everyone is talking about? Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond? Do you want a specialist or an integrated firm? Can you find one that provides their thinking through the same channels you’d want them to use for you…and do you like the way they think?

There are lots of things to consider and there isn’t a one size fits all.

Following are six things to ask yourself while you’re searching for the perfect fit.

Honesty

The very first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself about why you’re looking for a digital agency.

Many business leaders think, “Oh we’ll hire this firm and not have to think about it again.”

That’s the kind of thinking that will get you in trouble.

If you truly want an agency to do good work on your behalf, you have to be involved. In working with our clients, we have mandatory weekly calls and communicate at least daily with all of them. Technology comes at us so quickly, a crisis can happen in a matter of minutes, and people expect real-time response.

Ignoring your agency or trying to manage it to only an hour a week is going to not only create frustration on both sides, six months down the road you’ll feel like they’ve failed you.

Be honest about how much time you can commit to making sure they can be successful for you.

Specialists

Do you want to work with an agency that specializes in social media or do you want an integrated firm? There are pros and cons to both, but don’t get trapped in the thinking only a social media agency can do digital work.

Typically a social media agency is made of people who are great at the technology side of things, but don’t have crisis, issues, or reputation management expertise. They also won’t be able to help you with marketing, communications, content, or advertising.

On the flip side, an integrated agency will be able to create a cohesive plan and work all angles, but won’t have the laser sharp focus on just the social side of things. They may not keep up on the new tools as quickly as a specialized agency.

Goal-Oriented

More important than whether or not the agency specializes is how goal-oriented and data-driven they are. Do they track their efforts against your business goals? Do they constantly review data to make changes to the program? Are they willing to stop a campaign if isn’t working? Do they understand how your organization makes money and can they point to how they’re helping you do that?

Lots of agencies talk about measuring results, but it’s a rare few that really understand what that means. They’ll provide you a weekly report with number of fans, followers, viewers, listeners, and engagement increases, but as UNICEF so eloquently put it, “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.”

Those metrics are great for brand awareness and are necessary, but if that’s all the digital agency measures, keep looking.

Willing to Take Risk

Because technology changes so quickly and a new social network seemingly pops up every day, your digital agency should be open to experimentation and willing to take some risks.

Not only that, they should be on top of the changes at Google, which occur constantly, but big changes happen about once a month. They should know how search engine optimization, content, and Google authorship work together and how to keep your online presence updated.

Are they willing to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission? Are you willing to let them?

Collaborate

If you decide to go with a specialized digital agency, are they willing to work with other firms? Do they have a track record of success in doing so? Can they do so without fighting for budgets or not sharing information?

You may be the type to want a little infighting among agencies because you believe it helps them do their best work. That may be the case for some, but in my experience, infighting creates roadblocks and silos that hurt progress and results.

Find an agency that knows how to play nicely in the sandbox.

Chemistry

I saved the most important for last: Chemistry. When you hire a digital agency, you are working with people. You have to like them. You have to like them enough to enter into a marriage of sorts.

You will become partners. You will agree on many things and you will disagree on others. Do you like the people enough to want to hang out with them after work or on the road for conferences and trade shows?

If you don’t like them, you’ll constantly cancel meetings, you won’t answer emails, and you’ll dread traveling with them.

Find people you like and the rest will figure itself out.

A version of this first appeared on AllBusiness

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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43 Comments on "Guide to Hiring a Digital Agency"

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PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1
3 years 4 months ago

When I saw Chemistry last I first thought….that should be 1st and then saw “I saved the most important for last”.  Proving great minds think alike 🙂

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

PattiRoseKnight1 We haven’t been together for five years for nothing.

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich PattiRoseKnight1 we’re like an old married couple 🙂

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago

PattiRoseKnight1 ginidietrich Chemistry: Verbalounadjunctcile:  is when Eli Manning and several other NY Giants told the Owners they will take pay cuts or restructure their contracts to ensure Victor Cruz stays a Giant.

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago

PattiRoseKnight1 ginidietrich Non-Chemistry: When none of the NY Jets will talk to the press about their feelings for Tim Tebow, whom the Bears should totally pick up!

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1
3 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb PattiRoseKnight1 ginidietrich Only if it’s in addition to Jay but not to replace him – I would go into depression!

Word Ninja
3 years 4 months ago

This would be a great addition to that ebook for prospects you mentioned a while back! Chemistry is something my fellow freelance writers often discuss. Some create a kind of “what I’m like to work with” page to attract certain types of clients. I just use expensive perfume…

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

Word Ninja Almost like I’m writing blog posts to put into an eBook. 🙂 I just read your comment about creating newsletters with grid paper. I remember those days!

Word Ninja
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich Word Ninja Here I thought you were writing blog posts just to entertain all of us.

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

Word Ninja Oh right! That’s what I meant.

LouHoffman
LouHoffman
3 years 4 months ago

I agree that chemistry should be part of the decision-making process. But figuring out chemistry through a few interactions can be a challenge. Everyone tends to be on their best behavior during a review process.
It still surprises me how few companies make onsite visits to their short listed agencies. Just through “sheer osmosis,” you gain so many cues that play to the chemistry question.
Of course, sometimes this isn’t practical, particularly when you’re based in a different city that the agency. Still, I bet not even 10% of the companies kicking our tires build in an onsite component.

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago
LouHoffman I think the better term would be trust vs chemistry? Because I am not going tell a client what they want to hear…I am going to tell them what they need to hear. And it isn’t always pleasant. And I am pretty sure even if you don’t get on well if you all make money from the venture it is a go. How many people have taken jobs they hate just because it makes them a ton of money?  I think where chemistry comes in is if there is choice. If there is choice then of course you will… Read more »
LouHoffman
LouHoffman
3 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb That’s a fair point though I think it’s fair to say people gravitate towards people they like … which brings us back to the chemistry variable.

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

LouHoffman We once made it to the short list of agencies to be hired and not once did the prospect ask us anything about us. They didn’t visit our sites or the blog or check us out online at all. I finally asked them, in the final interview, why they hadn’t done that. They took it to mean I am so egocentric I couldn’t believe they didn’t know who we are. I explained I meant I couldn’t understand how they could hire an agency without knowing anything about them, their culture, or their other clients. We didn’t win the business.

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich LouHoffman I bet they didn’t win with their hire either Ms Gini

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago
Been having these discussions recently with a friend. He was very firm in saying if you employ tactics before a system is in place you are going down a bad road. I said but say you have urgency and want to do some digital ads or email campaigns right away before the system is set up. The response was again tactics can’t come before systems. I have decided there has to be a big picture person internally or externally before anything happens. As I saw with my ex-partner nothing ever sounded like a bad tactic as long as it made… Read more »
bdorman264
3 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb I’m quitting my day job to start a digital agency. I heard there was easy money to be had. 
Just like I could really use a personal assistant, I really could use a digital personal assistant as well. Will you work for food?

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

bdorman264 You could be a Zirtual!

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich bdorman264 OMG he can be THE ZIRTUAL!

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb bdorman264 YES!!!

bdorman264
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb Zirtually….

Helpdesk_info
Helpdesk_info
3 years 4 months ago

Some really good advice here. Especially liked the measure portion. Vanity metrics are such a waste of time in my opinion and far too many agencies over hype these instead of taking the time to educate the client on what really should matter to them.

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

Helpdesk_info You are speaking my language!

W_Goddard
W_Goddard
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich I love getting asked the question…What is your Klout score and how many followers do you on Twitter …my answer “enough followers to keep me busy and engaged and as for the klout score, it is what it is”

sydcon_mktg
3 years 4 months ago
I agree on reasons one might need a digital agency.  We partner with digital agencies daily.  I’d say for specialists, i dont know that I would say social media deals with “Technology”.  We have found the integrated agencies are more technology based as they offer (thru partners like us) actual technology solutions, ie: programming, mobile programming, e-commerce and the like.  Social media firms tend to offer social media campaigns only, and like you mentioned not have crisis plans, etc. In the present day, while a agency initial price tag may appear higher than a hourly or annual salary, in the long… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

sydcon_mktg I didn’t mean technology in the way you talk about it. I meant it in the way most business leaders understand it: The tools, such as social media. They always refer to Twitter and Facebook as technology.

sydcon_mktg
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich We have differing experiences then, LOL! I am curious though, when you speak with leaders who refer to Facebook & Twitter as “technology” what do they refer say apps, or mobile or tablets, software and the like to?

Howie Goldfarb
3 years 4 months ago
sydcon_mktg ginidietrich I agree with Gini. I coined this phrase and anyone caught using it owes me big bank! Social Media is a Revolution in Interpersonal Communications Technologies. There is nothing Social about Media. It is a horrible name. Twitter and facebook are communication technology platforms.Just like the phone, SMS etc. And Social Media technically has been around since we first started writing and sharing so thousands of years. The printing press is social media. The town cryer.   But to your point Jennifer how it integrates is another monster all together. My first job out of college I sold B2B pagers.… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

sydcon_mktg IT. It’s always IT. They also hire CTOs who know IT, but not the web. It drives me crazy.

sydcon_mktg
3 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb That is so funny. Maybe its just different circles, but we have never encountered this, even when working with our agency clients.   It just goes to show that MANY in the business world still lack the knowledge necessary to move their business forward when it comes to technology, interent, computers, mobile, etc.

TaraGeissinger
3 years 4 months ago

Chemistry is so important — even from the agency side. I am to the point now where I simply won’t work with a client who is argumentative or refuses to be a true partner. This IS like a marriage and success very much involves everybody working together. One of the biggest mistakes I see clients make is hiring an agency and then being frustrated that they are being asked to contribute. Nobody knows the nuances of your business as much as YOU do. Partner with us — brainstorm with us! It will only make your content or campaign stronger!

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

TaraGeissinger I am totally with you! We also won’t work with an organization that won’t share their data with us. It’s a deal breaker. And the not participating is the second deal breaker. You’re right – we can’t do it without you.

HeatherTweedy
3 years 4 months ago
Love this topic!  I love that you talk about collaboration!  t. I would add in the chemistry portion that companies should find an agency that they like and respect.  There will be times that common sense and digital don’t agree and you need to be able to trust the experts you hired.   I also completely agree with you on vanity metrics.  However, it can be hard when client want to see huge numbers of people talking about them.  They are the new AVE of PR, an easily understood, ego-boosting metric that execs seem to love.  I’m sure many agencies… Read more »
ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

HeatherTweedy Are you going to Counselors Academy this year? This is a great conversation to have over cocktails.

KristenDaukas
3 years 4 months ago

Yes, yes, yes and yes. I agree with this 100%. I run into so many agencies who are so dishonest about their capabilities and yet they’re able to sucker so many people. I know that we/I will ALWAYS win in the long run when we stick to our ethics, integrity, hard work and kick butt skills. Oh and humility. I’ve got some humble skillz as well 😉

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

KristenDaukas LOL!! Those humble skillz are what I love about you. Well, that and panicking that we were at the same conference and didn’t see one another.

JoeCardillo
3 years 4 months ago

KristenDaukas This is so true, people place such a premium on winning business that they forget to even consider if they’ll be good partners. If the answer is no, the old “it’s a pretty small iceberg and after all we’re on the Titanic” adage is going to kick in at some point.

PamelaMKramer
3 years 4 months ago

Great article. You didn’t didn’t say anything about the “gurus”

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

PamelaMKramer Oh shoot! The gurus, experts, and wizards!

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 4 months ago

I hear Twist Image is pretty good. Know anyone else?

ginidietrich
3 years 4 months ago

rdopping Brat.

rdopping
rdopping
3 years 4 months ago

You left out lovable. You know, like lovable brat.

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[…] are plenty of other things you can consider when hiring an agency, but this should give you an idea of how to go about it in a way that will be much more beneficial […]

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