David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

How to hire a marketing agency

As a lifelong marketer, design hack, agency copywriter and media director, I have been known to tackle my own advertising and marketing from time-to-time. I was fond of justifying my decision by arguing that I already knew what I wanted to do, or that I knew my market best, or that I didn’t have the budget to invest in someone to help me. Often, I made a mistake by not choosing an agency to help me achieve my goals.

It’s not that I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew my business, my customer, and had I my marketing objectives identified. But by doing the work myself, I was hampering the marketing effectiveness by limiting the strategic thinking, ideation, creative execution, and media selection to my capabilities alone.  It’s not a smart business move, and like so many entrepreneurs, I learned the hard way that a marketing agency can be an asset to business.

What an agency does.

Marketing agencies can bring a wealth of expertise to help entrepreneurs. It used to be that a traditional or full-service marketing agency helped the client conduct research, better understand the target market, fine-tune the message to that target market, develop and execute a creative strategy, manage sales promotions and public relations, and place media (Ogilvy, 1983).  As new media evolved, so did the marketing agency. Although a few large traditional agencies still exist, many firms are specializing in creative, digital, social, and media to serve more specific needs of their clients (Toure, 2015).  These specialized agencies each provide some of the same functions as the full-service agency, but their expertise tends to be more focused.

Regardless of the agency type, the primary goal for any agency you engage should be to help you achieve your business objectives through marketing. For some, the aim is to raise awareness of a new business and begin to build the brand for long-term market presence. For others, the objective will be to “make the cash register ring” on a consistent basis. For still others, it will be a mix of the two. You, as the client, must fully understand how you want marketing to help you achieve your goals and objectives. This is the foundation for any business and a requirement before engaging an agency partner to help you attain these goals.

What to look for when you’re ready to hire an agency.

If you’ve decided to engage a marketing agency here are a few things you should consider as you begin your hunt: 

  1. Find marketing campaigns that connect with you emotionally. Marketing in today’s world is about storytelling and emotional connection. Agencies that do this well will move you in some way with their marketing. They’ll make you laugh, cry, make you angry or maybe even clutch your pearls. Find out which agencies did the work that moved you and makes a list.
  1. Review agency self-promotion. Do your homework. Spend some time on their website and look through trade publications where they might advertise. Check out their social media presence (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn) and see if they’re active and relevant (Hendrix, 2017). Are they consistent with their message through all the channels? Do they practice what they preach to their clients?
  1. Determine the type of agency you might need. Depending on your business and your objectives you might a need a full-service agency, a creative agency, or maybe a social media agency. Each one will bring something different—a particular set of skills and abilities–to help you achieve your goals. You need to consider what you need before you engage an agency. 
  1. Consider industry expertise, but don’t be bound by it. An agency with experience in your industry can save you a lot of time and energy. You’ll have to help them understand your business, but their experience and understanding of the industry may give them an advantage in positioning your business against your competition(Dearing, 2013). Conversely, you might also consider whether an agency without industry experience might be better able to create break-through marketing programs because they’re not confined by industry thinking and approaches. 
  1. Look for an agency that has a history of more than one campaign. Most any agency can create one good campaign, but a good agency will have many clients with repeated successes that they can document and that can be substantiated by their clients during a due diligence process.
  1. Make sure you have good chemistry and mutual respect. The client-agency working relationship is not always smooth(Ogilvy, 1983). But good chemistry can contribute to making it easier and more desirable to work through the rough spots and grow together.

What you should expect when working with an agency.

One you’ve engaged a marketing agency you should you’re ready to get to work. You should expect:

  1. To help them learn your business. A marketing agency will need to know your business almost as well as you do if they are to help you achieve your goals and objectives. Tell them everything you know about your industry (if they don’t already), products, your market, your competition, and your customers. Also, make sure to share your previous marketing campaigns—the successes and the failures—and explain what you think worked (or didn’t) for each. In exchange, they should bring solid business savvy to help piece together everything you’ve told them into a strong strategy for marketing success (Dearing, 2013).
  1. To be open to hearing their best advice. A good marketing agency will tell you things you don’t want to hear. This is a good thing. You’re paying for their best advice and direction. Trust that they want success for you because it translates into success for them.
  1. Something different. Your problems are different than your competitor’s problems. Your problems are different than the company whose marketing first caught your eye and provoked you to find the agency you hired. Each client is different and so are their problems. Don’t expect the agency to do work that’s similar to work they’ve done for others. That work solved those problems, and you want the agency to address yours (Stout, 2017). And that might look completely different than anything else you may have seen. Grant them the freedom to do their best work..for you.
  1. Expertise in the area for which you are hiring them. If you can afford it, a full-service agency will likely have many departments it can leverage together to help your business grow. But other agencies specialize. If you hire a social media agency to assist with your social media marketing, they may or may not have experience in graphic design, copywriting, or visual content creation. Know this before hiring them and do not expect them to stretch too far beyond their area of expertise and do it well. Doing so sets both parties up for failure.

Too often entrepreneurs get in their own way when it comes to marketing. Marketing looks easy from the outside, but it is often a complex machine. When done well, a business can flourish; when done poorly, a company can crash and burn. Choosing the right marketing agency for your business can make all the difference. I should know. I have first-hand experience in both situations.



Dearing, G. (2013, December 18). 5 Things To Look For When Hiring Your Marketing Agency. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/capitalonespark/2013/12/18/5-things-to-look-for-when-hiring-your-marketing-agency/#13039d457bfa

Hendrix, A. (2017, April 16). Ahna Hendrix on Entrepreneurship. (D. Harkins, Interviewer) Charlotte, NC. Retrieved from https://www.davidharkins.com/mrharkins.com/interview-ahna-hendrix/

Ogilvy, D. (1983). Ogilvy on Advertising. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Stout, D. J. (2017, April 17). Design Matters with DJ Stout. (D. Millman, Interviewer) Retrieved April 27, 2017, from https://soundcloud.com/designmatters/design-matters-with-debbie-millman-dj-stout

Toure, M. (2015, March 23). Are Full Service Agencies a Thing of the Past or the Future? Retrieved April 26, 2017, from adage.com: http://adage.com/article/agency-news/full-service-agencies-a-thing-past-future/297738/



Featured  Image Source: Getty Images, John Lund

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