media update’s Nakedi Phala spoke to Pieter Geyser, head of digital PR and marketing at Irvine Partners, to find out how you can choose the right digital agency for your brand.

Before we dive into the details, let’s dissect the need for digital marketing services. Why does your brand need them?

Well, as technology develops, it affects how you conduct your marketing strategies. And, with most industries nowadays being influenced by tech, it’s important to find that ideal agency that will help your brand stay relevant and in the game!

1. What steps do businesses need to take before selecting the right digital agency?

For many businesses, navigating the ever-shifting world of digital marketing can be a daunting task. There has been a phenomenal increase in the number of agencies that one can choose from.

Just about anyone with an Internet connection and basic website building skills can set themselves up as an agency — with the addition of a few free, online courses.

Because of this, it’s more important now than ever for businesses to understand exactly what they need from an agency. The first thing that any brand should do to find the right agency is to define what its own objectives are.

Understanding the business goals and what the budget is for the project will greatly assist in aligning with the right agency as well as setting up KPIs and milestones. It also never hurts to work with an agency that has some experience in your industry. That said, previous industry experience doesn’t automatically translate to it being successful.

Ask the agency team some questions: What was their involvement? Were there any challenges or wins that they experienced? Are they currently working with any businesses in your industry?

Not having industry experience isn’t a reason to swipe left on an agency either. Oftentimes, fresh eyes bring fresh ideas.

Ask the team how they approach a new industry. Any agency worth its salt will be able to evaluate a client’s industry, online presence, competitors and then devise an effective strategy.

2. What can a digital agency do to ensure an exclusive client experience during the acquiring phase?

Agencies need to build trust with their potential clients, and when they start being vague, it's almost always a bad sign.

It's no surprise that in the marketing industry, there is an abundance of freelancers available and many agencies make use of them to support the services that their internal teams already offer. Being vague about who will actually work on an account is a monumental red flag.

I have had clients come to me to audit their services only to discover that the consultant they hired had already enlisted the services of another agency, who then hired another one, which didn’t actually have any staff as it only worked with freelancers.

The client had no idea who was actually working on the project and had no access to view any of their accounts on any of the platforms. Therefore, the best way to ensure a great client experience as an agency is to be open and transparent with potential clients.

Brands deserve to know who is going to be working on the day-to-day for their account, who the other clients are and how much time will actually be dedicated to their business.

3. What differentiates a ‘good’ digital agency from a ‘bad’ one?

A good agency will always put strategy first. It will also listen more than it speaks so that it can truly understand what its clients’ needs are — and then make suggestions and provide insights once it has that information.

A bad agency will ramble on about which platforms you should be on and what it can do for you without understanding your business goals or having put together a strategy.

As said before, transparency is a big thing too. A good — and reliable — agency will play open cards with you. It will present you with a strategy and provide you with access to view all of your data — from paid spend to website analytics. This means that you can always cross-check their reports with the actual data.

Good agencies are very forthcoming with the work that they’ve done and who their past clients are, as this gives them credibility. Bad agencies use phrases like “it’s confidential” or, “it’s not our policy to share access to accounts as we have because [insert irrelevant excuse here]”.

When you hear this, run! Not being forthcoming with past experience or having any recommendations is a clear sign that they’re all talk.

'Full-service' agencies are everywhere and they’ll offer you the sun, the moon and any other thing they can find in the universe that fits under their roof. While it may be tempting to go this route, it's not always the better option. Some of the best agencies out there specialise in one or two disciplines and have supporting services that are offered to simplify the client’s life.

Agencies that say they specialise in everything are reaching far and bringing back very little. Always go with the niche agency that specialises in the types of services that your business actually needs.

4. What are the reasonable costs involved in hiring a digital advertising agency?

There is no industry standard. I know some agencies that charge R500 per hour and I know of some that charge R1 500 per hour.

The more expensive agencies aren’t necessarily the better agencies, just as cheaper agencies aren’t always the most cost-effective. When it comes to comparing pricing for agencies, you should pay close attention to the range of work that's being presented and compare scope versus scope.

This is why it's important when deciding to speak to agencies to have a clear idea of what you’re expecting from them, what your goals are and what your budget is. The cheaper of the quotes that you receive could be offering significantly fewer services, and the more expensive ones could be offering you services that you just don't need.

Additionally, management fees or set monthly retainers are better for both client and agency. The fee is based on a predetermined scope of work and both know how much money will be coming in and going each month.

It enforces a level of trust that, when the agency makes recommendations for ad spend, that it's for the benefit of the client. An agency that works on percentages will very rarely ever recommend reducing the ad spend because it's not working.

5. What are the most important Ts & Cs clients and potential clients should be wary of when hiring a digital agency?

Have these insights helped you choose the right digital agency for your brand? Let us know in the comments section below.

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