Evaluating an Agency: A checklist

Now that you have selected an agency and started working together, how do you evaluate them and their overall performance.

Of course the most obvious one is their performance and delivery. An agency who does not perform and cannot deliver against set KPI’s would not be around for long. But there are other factors as well to consider.

But Performance does not just mean the achievement of KPI’s, you also have to look at end to end service delivery, or what I have put together as the 3 C’s.

  1. Consistency – or ‘Reliability’
    This refers to how trustworthy the agency is, and not only in their performance but whether they perform well regularly, or is it more unpredictable? There are other factors which can affect performance including the market, targeting, budgets etc. however this factor is purely on the agency.
    – How quick are they to action points?
    – Do they need detailed instructions? or can they be trusted to look after your best interests?
    – Is their performance regular? or do they have moments of peak performance followed by low performance sporadically?An agency should be consistent in their performance and if not it should be backed up by good reason. They should look after their clients interests and not be afraid to disagree or question plans. They should be pro-active to suggest new and innovative ideas and if left to their own devices can deliver results consistently.
  2. Communication – or ‘frequency’
    This refers to how easy and more importantly how often do they communicate with you. Is it just that weekly call to go over reports or is it more frequent where you’ll can discuss new happenings and strategy?
    – Who makes the first step in communicating?
    – Do they communicate only if there is something to report? or do they check in with you more frequently?
    – Do they follow up with you on any action points? os is it you doing the following up?It is vital that the agency communicates frequently and of items of value. They should not hesitate in providing updates, even if it is unsolicited. They should also be easy to get in touch, and get back to you within a reasonable timeframe. That being said, the onus is not only on the agency but also on the client. Communication needs to work both ways. You should keep the agency updated on any new happenings or events within the company, which can affect the strategy or can inspire new ideas. You should be easy to get in touch with and also follow up with the agency and get regular updates. Interest needs to be shown by both parties for effective communication.
  3. Clarity Рor  Transparency
    This to me is one of the most important points. One of the most frustrating aspects I face in dealing with agencies is when they are vague in their communications. There is no clear indication given for what they are working on, or how they are working on your account. How is the budget being used and how do they account for the time spent by their executives?
    – Can they explain what they are doing and how they are doing it?
    – Are they vague or give ‘blanket’ explanations such as ‘we are working on it’?
    – Can they justify their actions or the steps taken?It is very important that the agency is honest in their communication. While of course they may be certain trade secrets they do not wish to share or a certain method to their madness, if a client requests for information this should not be withheld or for agencies to act superior in their knowledge. That does not mean that the client is always right either, or that an agency knows better. Both parties have important information and a different style of working so it is important to work together.

So this is just a small checklist of what I believe to be the most important factors (besides performance) in evaluating an agency. Of course no agency is perfect, or will fit all criteria. There will always be some limitations in either size, budgets, or expertise, but this should give you a general idea on what to look out for in a good agency.

Do you have any other items to add to the list? Or what is your evaluation criteria?

How to choose the ‘right’ digital agency

Choosing a suitable agency can be a highly daunting task. There are a multitude of qualified agencies all promising to be the best in their respective fields; how do you find these agencies? do you choose a full service agency or a more specialized one? I’ve put together a few tips from my experience of trying to find a good agency.

  1. Full – Service or Specialized?
    Firstly, it all depends on what’s the reason for getting an agency. Is it to handle all digital services or for a specific activity such as social media, search marketing etc. If it is for all digital services, then a full serviced agency would be more beneficial. This is not only because they have a wide variety of skills which could benefit the company, the more investment larger agencies receive, the better discounts and services they will provide. If you are looking for a specialized service then usually smaller boutique agencies are preferable. This is because they are more focused on a specific activity and can provide dedicated services, for a smaller budget.
  2. Local or International?
    If the target market is located within the UAE, then a local agency would be essential, but what if the market is global or in another country? Is it better to have one agency handle all markets or find a local agency within that market. Again this is dependent on the overall business strategy of the company. Most agencies find it more cost effective to go with one global multinational agency who have localized agencies in other countries, it makes it easier to deal with and they provide an integrated strategy, but if it is only one or two other markets then perhaps it is better to invest with a local agency there.
  3. Locating Agencies
    The next step would be putting together a list of agencies based on your requirements. Ideally the best place is to look for them is on Google (and being digital agencies I would expect them to have a strong presence online). Full serviced agencies can be found by looking for ‘digital agencies’ or ‘digital marketing agencies’. It is important to keep in mind that most traditional brand / creative / media buying agencies have also entered this space and offer complete digital services, so you can find agencies using those search terms as well. In the search results (SERPs), you can find out more about about each agency through their meta title, or their PPC results. In each of the ads, agencies specify if they specialize in a particular activity such as ‘SEO’ or they are complete ‘digital marketing’ agencies. I also prefer using third party sites such as: https://digitalagencynetwork.com/agencies/ or using organizations such as eConsultancy and their preferred lists which provide recommendations.
    It is important to consider the location of these agencies.
  4. Selecting & Shortlisting Agencies
    Once an agency list has been created, it is important to narrow them down. This is one of the more daunting tasks that need to be done. It is important to look for the following: Clients, Experience, Awards, Case Studies.
    Most agencies will have a client list on their site, but it is important to understand what work has been done for their clients. If they work on social, then check out the social pages and see how they are being managed, if they are handling search, review their SEO or check out their PPC ads to see how they are set up. Most agencies also have multiple case studies to support their claims. But it is not enough to say what work is being done but what are the results that have been achieved. Finally, it is also useful to look at what awards (if any) have been won by the agency and for any specific work.
  5. Deciding on the agency
    Once a shortlist has been put together the next stage would be to either send a Request for Proposal (RFP) or ask them to send across a proposal based on your needs. An RFP is a structured document with a list of requirements, however it is also possible to contact them and ask for a proposal. It is up to your discretion to provide a budget for the activity or not. In most cases businesses are not sure what the budget should be, so they ask the agency to advise which is quite normal, however it is important to consider how the agency costs. Is it a percentage of media spend or a flat fee, this would affect how much is taken by the agency and what’s left for the actual spend, so the final decision would be based on overall budget.

Is there anything else to consider, that I may have missed out?