How to Choose a Marketing Firm

Business executives doing research on which marketing firm to work with

Choosing a marketing or design firm – Best Practices

Business owners want to improve their marketing efforts, but choosing the right marketing firm or designer for their business can be difficult. It can be a bewildering experience because the choices are great, but choosing the right firm is an important decision. It can make or break your next campaign. Here are some tips to help choose the right firm for your business.

  1. Obviously, talent is important, but what is talent exactly? It’s a difficult thing to define. Because it’s such a subjective term, perhaps the best way to define it is: I know it when I see it. Consequently, when you examine your prospective’s portfolio, look for concepts, materials, and ideas that appeal to your own sense of what your business goals are. Additionally, look for a wide range of items (i.e. not all websites) paying special attention to work that’s relevant to your business. Look closely for errors too – you’d be surprised how many errors go to print”¦ Attention to detail is a hallmark of good marketing.
  2. Does the firm/designer have a style that’s repeated throughout the portfolio? Many designers produce work with a similar style or theme, and that’s fine, if you like their work and it suits your business. However, some designers struggle to create beyond their comfort zone. This is important because choosing a funky and trendy design firm, then expecting them to create something conservative for your straight-laced business might be a problem down the road.
  3. Rapport is important in any business relationship. Your firm/designer should listen to you to understand your needs and goals. After all, you know your business best. More importantly, your prospect needs to tell you when your ideas don’t fit your goals and objectives, and explain why they don’t. Both you and your designer must be able to exchange ideas freely and trust each other’s expertise.

Does size really matter? Is Bigger really Better?

Typically, the smallest and least expensive designers are independent freelancers. Some of them are very talented and might be an excellent solution for smaller businesses. However, if you have a large-scale project, independent freelancers might struggle to deliver or fulfill large-scale projects leaving you in the lurch managing multiple suppliers or other third parties.

Larger agencies tend to have individual account execs responsible for large accounts. That might be an advantage for a large-scale project. However, unfortunately, some larger firms don’t take smaller projects seriously leading to inattention to details or inexperienced junior executives managing your project.

Your goal is to pick a firm or designer based on the level of service you want, AND fits your business model.

Managing Your Project.

Your initial meeting should be with key player(s) to tell them your expectations. They should ask questions about your business, your campaign goals, long-term plans, target markets, and your competitors. Good design firms will do whatever it takes to understand your business and your goals and define realistic expectations.

Know what you’re buying and get it in writing.

After defining the project, the designer should create a detailed proposal. The proposal should include the number of concepts to be presented, number of changes included, and what’s not included (ie: photography), and a proposed schedule. A good proposal protects both parties and defines expectations up front.

Importantly, the number of revisions should be included in the initial agreement. Most designers are flexible to revisions, but there are limits. Be prepared to revisit the original quote if your desire for revisions is extreme or excessive.

Choose Wisely.

Ensure that the designer you choose shares your concept of service and quality. Don’t let the lowest bid be the priority. Most of the time cheap is cheap for a reason. Trust your instincts.

Consider the Big Picture

Give some thought to what kind of marketing help you need. Oftentimes, you start in one place and then realize you need other things.

For example, your immediate need for branding makes sense, but after establishing your brand you may need help with promotion. It’s important to see the big picture because not all marketing firms provide the same service. Some specialize and some are generalists. If you want to manage all of your marketing needs in one place, you need to establish that the firm you choose can handle everything you want.

The point is, while it’s important to focus on your immediate needs, you also need to think about marketing along a continuum – what you need now, a few months from now, and next year. This helps you to interview potential firms.

Seeing the big picture requires more work on your part, but the more you know about your own needs, the better off you’ll be.


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