There are a lot of benefits to outsourcing your digital marketing to an agency: access to the best people without the need to recruit and train individuals, use of the best tech without monthly licensing fees, a dedicated team which contains skills and expertise across several channels, partnerships with third-party platforms, and so on.
There are hundreds of agencies in the UK. Sector-specific boutique agencies; specialised agencies who look after a single channel such as PPC or PR; full-service agencies; international agencies… Hiring an agency is a big investment and it’s important to find an agency that is a perfect fit for your company and the work needed.
There are many factors to consider when looking for an agency. In this blog we will run through some of the questions to ask which can help identify if an agency is suitable. We have also included tips on how to write an RFP document, and a downloadable RFP template which can be modified to suit your needs.
Most digital marketing agencies fall into two camps: full service, or niche.
Niche or specialist agencies specialise in managing one channel (for example, web development or branding) and every employee has experience and expertise in this service. Full-service agencies manage multiple channels, often taking an integrated approach – each channel has its own team full of channel experts.
Full-service agencies also have specialisms. For example, Search Laboratory offers full-service digital marketing and we have teams and experts in every channel from PPC to CRO. However, we are also international marketing specialists, and Google Marketing Platform (GMP) Sales Partners, which means we are better equipped to help businesses expand internationally or leverage the advanced features of the GMP stack than a full-service digital agency who does not have the same experience, expertise and qualifications as we do.
It is beneficial to work with an agency who has experience working with clients in a similar sector as you, as they already know what works (and what doesn’t) in the industry and have likely made strong relationships with key people in this industry already.
An agency might specialise and work with just one sector, for example, construction or medicine, or they might work across multiple sectors but, through having several clients in one industry, still have specialist knowledge of your sector.
An agency who has strong knowledge of your sector will be much better equipped to creating digital strategies which work within this industry than an agency with little to no experience.
All agencies talk the talk, but a truly successful agency will have compelling case studies and industry awards which confirm whether they deliver genuinely useful results for their clients. The right agency should have a good track record of achieving the results you want for their other clients.
All businesses have values and beliefs which influence their brand culture, and it’s important to find an agency whose culture and beliefs complement yours. Finding an agency with a similar culture and values ensures they can act as an extension of your brand, as the work they are required to do is a natural fit for the work they believe in.
Agencies tend to have a budget in mind that they like to work with. Too low and it is not a cost-effective use of time; too high and they might not have the resources to manage it. Finding an agency who looks after similar-sized businesses and handles similar-sized budgets means you are more likely to work with people who are capable of delivering your campaigns.
A Request For Proposal (RFP) is a document you can use as part of the pitching process to get details about the agency and begin to gauge if they would make a good fit.
RFPs typically include a background overview of the company, a project brief including goals and KPIs, overarching business aims, a timeline of the pitching process and when work is required to start, access to any relevant data and analytics, and questions covering everything the company wants to know – from team size to case studies, to how the agency would approach the brief.
An RFP is your chance to thoroughly vet agencies before inviting them to pitch. A good RFP will weed out any agencies that are not a good match – whether that’s due to team size, company values, or their approach to digital marketing.
It is therefore important that the RFP brief contains as much detail as possible, and that the questions you ask will deliver in-depth insight on everything you need to know. Without detailed information on who you are and what you want to achieve, agencies are made to take a stab in the dark with their answers – meaning the document may not be a true representation of their skills and approach.
We’ve been asked to complete hundreds of RFPs since we first opened – some of which have been good, some of which have not been so good, and this process has helped us understand exactly what it is that makes an RFP great and enable you to pick out the right agency for your business.
Working with an agency is a two-way relationship, and the RFP process is just as much an opportunity for an agency to confirm you are a good fit, as it is for you to review them. Providing a thorough overview of your company will help each agency pitching to assess if the scope of work is suitable for their own business goals.
In addition, the more information you provide, the better they will be able to understand your objectives and goals which will help them to tailor their answers and approach accordingly.
Look to include your company background and current position in the market, company values, team size and key stakeholders, customer demographics, business goals, current marketing activity, USPs, competitors… An agency should act as an extension of your team so anything your marketing department needs to know; the agency needs to know too.
The challenges you face will partly determine the strategy used to reach your business goals, so it is important you include all challenges, both internal and external, in your brief as this will help the agency to identify where they should prioritise their efforts and how.
Anything that might impact the work – from technical issues onsite, to increasing competition from online marketplaces, outlining your challenges will help an agency determine where they can add value.
Your RFP should detail exactly what services you are looking for from an agency and what you hope to get from this activity. Be as specific as possible – ‘We want to increase our PPC revenue by X% in the next X months’ is more useful and will influence answers much better than ‘We want someone to manage our PPC’.
Your RFP needs to portray not just the services required, but the exact results you want to gain from the work – in terms of digital KPIs but also your wider business objectives. Understanding the distance between your current position and your desired outcome is crucial to building an effective digital marketing strategy.
Sharing the timeline for the scope of work will ensure that any agencies who do not have the capacity to complete the work within the timeframe are filtered out. Your budget and expected time frame will play a huge part in the strategy that is proposed.
Being clear with these factors upfront allows each agency to propose a strategy they feel best uses the budget to reach your goals, rather than presenting a strategy which is out of budget and will later need to be scaled back.
Your RFP should explain the criteria you will use to select an agency partner, as well as any scoring systems that will be used. Responding to RFPs can require a lot of work from multiple people in the agency, so by including this information in the RFP you will prevent agencies who are unsuitable from applying, saving both parties time.
An agency needs to know exactly what information you want from them to be able to write a cohesive RFP answer. Vague questions are likely to get vague answers that do not truly reflect the agency’s capabilities, or how they would specifically service your needs. It’s also difficult to compare the answers from different agencies when broad or generic questions are used as they may be interpreted differently.
When writing your questions, think about how what you want to know (e.g. their approach to a channel) can be related back to what you hope to achieve. This can be done by either creating specific questions throughout (e.g. How would you approach X to do Y?) or outlining objectives in the brief and asking the agency to refer back to these objectives when answering each question.
To make writing an effective RFP even easier, we have created an RFP template which can be completely customised to suit your needs. Within the template are example questions across all digital services; these can be kept in and used as they are, tailored to specific work requirements you have, or removed and alternative questions added in.
By using our template and the above tips, you should have no trouble creating the perfect RFP document that will help you narrow down potential agencies to invite to pitch.