Vetting an agency can be challenging. There are a million of them, and they each promise something different. While one works in hours billed, another might work on retainer. You're generally having to get locked into a long-term contract and hoping you'll get the results you need to justify the cost.
I have worked in agencies for almost 15 years and know the behind-the-scenes secrets of what you can expect. If I was vetting an agency, here are the four things I would never compromise on:
Once you reach the final stage of choosing between two agencies, you must meet with the team that will work on your account. You don't want to ask for this too early as it will be hard to maintain that person's bandwidth, but once you get to final selections, you want to ensure that you're not getting someone with little experience or who isn't capable. You can also run into issues with personality clashes, and it's better to figure that out before starting. Some other reasons for this:
Quick tip: It can be worth trying to negotiate that if your point of contact leaves, there is an out clause if the new person isn't meeting your needs. By negotiating, you can save yourself from a bait and switch for your point of contact.
This one might seem obvious, but you would be surprised to find out how many people do not follow through with this step. While getting references in a similar industry is excellent, I would focus more on people utilizing the same services you will be. If you use the SEO and PPC teams but the reference is from someone using marketing automation, this won't be as telling. Once you talk to the connection, I would ask:
Quick tip: Dig in when discussing with references. You want to ensure you understand what makes the person a happy customer and will match up with what success looks like to you. If what you care about is revenue growth, but the reference only talks about brand building, it might not be the best fit.
Once you get to the proposal and contract stage, start digging through what you are receiving for your investment. What to look for can be unclear if you don't have much experience with digital, or the channel you're working with, so make sure to ask many questions. In some cases, it may require analysis to fully understand what you're paying for; however, they should still be able to give you an idea.
How often will there be communication? Is reporting once a month or once a week? What frequency will someone be in your account? How many pieces of content can you expect? These are all reasonable questions that should help set the right expectations for the campaign. If all you get are vague answers and nothing definitive, I would be worried about either the process they use or there is a disconnect between sales and service. These could be good questions to ask your point of contact when you talk to them.
When you get answers, it's essential to try to get them into the contract. For example, if you are supposed to receive a report monthly by the 5th, I would get that in writing. Getting everything in writing could go for any deliverable or expectation. If they are unwilling to put it in the contract, I would not trust the action to happen consistently.
Quick tip: If they make promises about what you will receive, ensure you get them in writing. Don't let a conversation pass without being documented in the contract or an email. Make sure someone is recording everything. It will save you many headaches down the road.
Contract terms can be confusing; however, it's worth digging through to ensure you understand what you are signing and what flexibility there is. Sometimes people can get locked into agreements that are way outside what they expected, and fair or not, they signed the contract. As a quick note, I am not a lawyer; you should consult a lawyer when reviewing legal terms in a contract. With that in mind, some things to look out for include:
Quick Tip: Understanding the contract you are signing is incredibly important; hiring a lawyer to review it is worth the money if you are unsure.
There is a lot to know and review when vetting an agency. While it's important to never compromise on the above, many factors and inputs can make the difference between getting your money's worth and blowing 10's of thousand of dollars not to see a return. If you feel overwhelmed with the prospect of vetting agencies or want some help, Trellis Consulting can provide agency review services to help you. Let us know below if we can support your growth.