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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

42 comments
PamelaMKramer
PamelaMKramer

Great article. You didn't didn't say anything about the "gurus"

KristenDaukas
KristenDaukas

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 ;)

HeatherTweedy
HeatherTweedy

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 feel it's easier to give in than measure real results (no matter how wrong it is.)

Personally I am not a big fan of "specialist agencies" because tools often overtake strategy.  Frankly integrated companies that don't have employees who are up-to-date on the latest digital technologies should rethink their training or hiring practices.  

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

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!

sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

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 run it can be more cost and time effective because you are usually getting a team who  has faster turn around, and a team of experience in varying specialties. 

W_Goddard
W_Goddard

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. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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 her rvenue. And this will happen with digital. With the performance of digital so poor in comparison to traditional media, but the sexy tactic would a digital agency ever say 'You know if you spent more money with local print or radio ads that would be the best way to go' if that really was the best way to go? No they will always find a solution via digital.

And that goes with any person or agency that makes money with a specific segment or tactic. They will lways be fighting to take as much of the budget pie into their realm whether it is best or not for the brand or client.

LouHoffman
LouHoffman

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.


Word Ninja
Word Ninja

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...

PattiRoseKnight1
PattiRoseKnight1

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 :)

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@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. 

bdorman264
bdorman264

@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
ginidietrich moderator

@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
Howie Goldfarb

@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 choose who you like the best. We do this with our buying decisions every day.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@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!

W_Goddard
W_Goddard

@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"

LouHoffman
LouHoffman

@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.


Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@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. Text just came out. The numeric were little beepers and you sent a phone number. Text were the size of an IPhone and worn on your belt. It was really amazing because for a fee you can get sports scores and really short news updates. It cost $16/month + $0.25 per text and had no keyboard. It was one way you had to go to a phone and call back! Now it is in every phone fully integrated. One day twitter/Facebook etc will also be integrated and the brands will disappear.

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