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  • What to look for in hiring a marketing company

  • Many companies get reinvigorated early in the new year.  They set new goals and decide to “do things differently”.  Very often this includes deciding that they need help with their marketing, particularly if growth or increased sales pipelines are among their overall objectives.  However, if they haven’t hired a marketing company before, they may not know what to look for.

    Here are some of the things they need to consider in order to make a smart decision.

    1.    Understand the difference between marketing and sales; marketing and advertising; marketing and …. (the tactics of marketing)

    What we are talking about is knowing the difference between marketing strategy and planning, and the plethora of companies that provide marketing services.  Here are just a few of the marketing service companies: advertising agencies, public relations agencies, design agencies, internet marketing agencies … I can go on and on.  While there is nothing wrong with retaining these services companies, they will do just that – provide you with services in that particular marketing discipline (or tactic). The main question you should ask yourself before retaining such a services company is: how do I know that is what I need?  Have you considered all the alternatives available to you first and made a sensible decision based on choice?  Or am I just jumping into that particular tactic?

    A marketing company thinks strategically – they will help to identify possible choices that are available to you and will then help to define exactly how you should go about it.  It’s that strategy and planning process that is most critical to your decision making – not the implementation of the chosen tactic.  What if the choice of that tactic is wrong?  You may find that you have wasted a ton of money without giving yourself the opportunity to choose from some well thought out alternatives.  A good marketing strategist can also help you with things like customer, competitor and target market analysis, product, distribution and pricing strategies and help you evaluate past marketing performance that can guide you to realistic 2012 marketing objectives.

    The bottom line: don’t rush to spend your hard earned money.  Strategize and plan your way to marketing success first – the implementation will be much safer and much more likely to succeed.

    2. Compare Like with Like

    One of the toughest challenges facing a decision maker is how to compare the proposals they receive.  By starting with a strategic insight, you have already begun the process of clarifying and understanding.  Look out for the why they are recommending things, not only the how.  Evaluate how they will measure success, and make sure whatever is recommended is focused on delivering results from your chosen customers.

    It really starts with YOUR brief.  Your brief to the competing companies should be simple and should include:

    • Your current and desired situation, your goals and objectives.
    • Ask them to come back with a general approach for how they would handle the situation (a good firm ought to be able to explain their approach and how and why it might be different from others).  You’re getting to understand their thought process here.  If there is no good thinking behind what they are recommending – start running…
    • Get educated on the different approaches, and decide which general direction you like best.
    • Make that your new approach, and ask for proposals addressing that new approach.

    Now you ought to be able to compare like with like, which makes decision making a lot easier.

    3. Don’t Buy Tactics, Tools and Software Before You Buy Your Marketing Firm (or your strategy)

    Sun Tzu (author of The Art of War and a Chinese military legend) said: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

    Be careful of the noise you create.  It could become deafening in a deadly manner if the noise is unfocused or without any definitive rhyme or reason.

    Tactics or software alone will make you feel good you are doing something, however if you aren’t really accomplishing something specific that is a desired outcome it just represents wasted spend. Strategy and planning and ensuring you are pointed in the desired direction should come first. Tactics, software and tools should come second.

    4. Beware the strategic promise from a services (tactics) firm

    We work with a wide range of firms that are brilliant at implementing the marketing tactics that are decided upon.  These services firms like printers, design agencies, advertising agencies, public relations consultants, web design companies etc etc do fantastic work.  However, beware the tactician that talks strategy without being able to provide real, tangible, strategic insight and process.  In many respects, they are implementers of a part of the strategy, provided that the strategy is  already in place.  For example, the advertising agency may provide a degree of advertising strategy, but that does not make for a comprehensive marketing strategy.

    Marketing strategy is crucial because it impacts on many areas within the company – from sales, to operations, to finance, to production etc.  And advertising in isolation will sometimes offer the vision of grandeur but will often fall down through lack of execution beyond the advertising itself.  It is at those spots that marketing often fails if it is not properly coordinated.

    So make sure your strategy is a proper strategy, and not just a simplistic justification for the service itself.

    5. Are they quick to deliver the answer or solution?

    The challenge with coming up with the best solution is: questions.  If you are being asked lots of questions then you are on the right track.  If, after a handful of questions, they are coming up with recommendations and campaigns, rather than strategies – be careful!

    Very often a marketer will present you a few choices to consider.  They may very well be totally different tactics – that will indicate that they do not have a vested interest in selling you one particular tactic or tool.  This is a good sign because you then have the opportunity to debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the choices with them in order to decide on the BEST option.  YOU need to be part of the decision making process since it will guarantee buy-in and a commitment to implementation at the operational level.

    6. Review and follow-up on case studies, testimonials and references

    Most companies will have an array of people that can attest to their expertise.  Look beyond the pretty pictures they can provide and get to the essence of the question: have they been able to help people accomplish their goals?  Call their references and check it out 1:1.  This is even more instructive than viewing the creative they have delivered before.  And beware the creative – if that is their focus, they may not be a marketing firm, but rather a creative shop that does strategy on the side.

    Ultimately, decide what you want, but make that decision with full knowledge.  If you think you don’t have enough information with which to make a decision, ask for help.  If you spend your money wisely upfront, you’ll save yourself a ton of money and aggravation later.  You may even end up spending less than you originally expected.

    Neville Pokroy consults in the areas of strategic marketing planning, as well as in the development and execution of marketing strategies and plans. He assists companies who require marketing expertise to plan and fully execute marketing programs.  If you want to have more choice in marketing your business and in setting yourself apart, and increase the odds of improving company performance, visit www.MasterMindSolutions.ca – Marketing Company Toronto.

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