It can be difficult for a lot of companies to outsource. For many, it represents a loss of control, or accepting that you can't handle something internally – but it shouldn't be a negative decision. Using a digital agency can help your business achieve the best possible results online, while you focus on your core business activity – i.e., the products or services your digital presence is attracting people to! But above all, working with a digital agency is a partnership.
Whether you're looking for SEO, PPC, design, web dev, marketing, display, CRO, PR or content, finding the right agency can be difficult. It's a crowded marketplace, so where do you start looking? How do you find the right fit?
Know what you want to achieve
Any good digital agency will be able to come up with some big, bright and beautiful ideas for your business without too much input from a client – in fact, free rein would be a dream come true for many of us! But it's not the way things work – by-and-large, if you want the best out of a digital agency, you need to have at least a vague idea of what you actually want to do.
That goal could be as simple as boosting sales, or ranking on the front page of Google for certain search terms. It could be pursuing paid ads with a certain ROI. It could be a rebrand, a responsive website for mobile, updated on-site content. It could be matching the performance of a competitor. It could be just about anything. But make sure you know what it is!
Do your research
Once you know what you want to do, it's time to find out who's out there to help you do it. Research agencies offering what you're after. Look at the people behind campaigns you like, speak to suppliers and clients who work with agencies and find out whether they're happy with their service. Seek out award-winning agencies through organisations like the Northern Digital Awards. Find out who's being talked about in The Drum.
Alternatively, just get on Google – any good agency worth your time will rank well, surely? Our one piece of advice – don't just focus on London agencies. And we're not just saying that because we're up in Yorkshire ourselves. The capital is, of course, full of a great many digital experts, but there are thriving creative communities around the country – particularly in Leeds, Manchester and the East Midlands.
But wherever you look, there are always going to be plenty of agencies vying for your attention. How can you narrow the search?
Specialists or generalists?
Some agencies do a lot of things, others just do a few. Some may just do one thing – though that's fairly rare given how interconnected digital marketing is. Still, you will find plenty of design agencies, copy agencies, technical SEO agencies and PR agencies who may dabble in other aspects of digital, but are largely committed to one specific niche. If you know exactly what you want, then working with an agency that specialises in one thing can be beneficial – you can be a jack of all trades, or a master of one, after all. You know they'll do an amazing job – they've built their whole business on their reputation for that one thing.
But, as we've mentioned, digital marketing is interconnected. A design agency may design a great site, but who's going to build it? Who's going to write the copy? Who's going to ensure it ranks well in search engines? Agencies with broader skillsets can cover more bases. They may not do each individual job as well as a specialist – but any good agency will still meet excellent standards.
And then, where next? If you've achieved your goals, then a specialist won't be upselling you further services. But if you want to continue to grow, a more diversified agency will be able to help you take the next step without requiring you to start the search over, or juggle multiple suppliers.
Global or local?
How big are the agencies you're looking at? If you're a global company, you're going to need a global agency to match – but we're willing to bet that if you've found us, you may be a bit smaller than a multinational. While companies of any size can work with bigger agencies and have a great relationship, enjoying world-class services – provided they can afford the fees – there are a lot of benefits to smaller agencies.
Firstly, don't assume that the lack of employees will result in a lack of attention. At a smaller agency, each client will always be a higher priority – you're more likely to be able to deal with the directors and senior staff than with a junior account executive. Secondly, even if they aren't local to you, smaller agencies will better understand the pressures facing small businesses, and the importance of local communities and local press.
Whoever you are interested in working with, one of the most important things is to meet them face-to-face. Invite them to pitch, and see what ideas they have. Most importantly, see how well you get on – you'll be working closely with these people, often with daily contact, for the foreseeable future.
Although there will always be a degree of sales spin, you will be able to tell whether an agency is right for you. Try not to be dazzled by a flashy pitch full of big promises – a good agency is creative, dynamic and driven to get the best results for you, yes, but they'll also be realistic.
Never be afraid to ask questions, even if you think it might be a silly one, and ensure they've read your brief and done their homework about you. When you find the right agency, you really will just click.
Does it play well with others?
One final consideration, which is all-too-often overlooked. Even the biggest agencies can't always fulfil every single one of your digital needs, whether that's due to their own resources, or an existing relationship that you have with another provider that you want to keep. It's not uncommon for companies to use more than one agency – and those agencies will need to play nice together.
It can be difficult – they'll often be in competition with each other, and each will be looking to take more of your business away from the others. When this inspires better work, it's arguably a good thing! But when it inspires withholding information from each other, launching competing campaigns without communicating, always requiring you to act as a go-between, and slowing down your ability to operate, they're hurting what is meant to be their top priority – you, the client.
Find out if agencies have experience of working with others – many smaller, more specialist agencies will have regular partners and collaborators that support each other – and ensure you host all-agency meetings so everyone you work with can meet each other, and work together.
And if you're at the stage of actually briefing an agency for a pitch, then you can download our free guide to writing a web brief below - it's got everything you need to include, and a template to help you put it together.