They spoke to five media and marketing specialists, namely Tanya Hemphill (TH), an independent digital marketing consultant, lecturer, trainer and speaker; Adam Freeman (AF) MD of Bloomberg Media; Bryan Hunter (BH), senior digital marketing manager for one of the world’s largest office broking services; David Ricketts (DR), head of Marketing at C24; and Bas van den Beld (BvdB), digital marketing strategist, consultant, speaker and trainer. 
What’s the single most important quality of a standout digital agency?

TH: The ability to quickly understand what the client is trying to achieve, being honest about whether their expectations can be met and offering alternative ideas if needed.

AF: Understanding how digital platforms can help grow a business.

BH: A sustained focus on the client’s business objectives.

DR: Industry knowledge and account management.

BvdB: There are many, but the most important is the quality of an agency to be flexible and really understand their client’s needs. Most agencies just follow their own ideas and don’t take enough time to do this. Ones that do will be most successful.

Awards. Case Studies. Current Brands. Testimonials. Which interests you when visiting an agency website for the first time?

TH: They demonstrate an agency’s approach to a specific problem and the outcomes of action.

AF: They’re live examples of what the team has done for others.

BH: Client lists, awards and testimonials are signals of a good agency, but it’s the tangible impact that they’ve had on their client’s business performance that stands out as the most important factor to me.

DR: You don’t necessarily have to show ‘growth of 100%’ increased sales of ‘£2-million’. You just have to be
honest and show how long-standing relationships have delivered results.

BvdB: They show the work a business is capable off and the connection they have with their clients.

Questions you should ask a new agency before hiring them

  • What are your thoughts on our current activity?
  • How can we improve what we’re doing?
  • How are you going to demonstrate ROI?
  • How do you plan to grow my business?
  • Tell me about the team that will work with us?
  • Why have you lost past clients?
  • Describe some of your proudest achievements in working with your clients.
  • Describe a challenging time you’ve had with a client. How did you resolve it?
  • How does your billing process work?
  • What training do you provide for your staff?
  • Describe your onboarding process.
  • How do you report to clients, can you provide examples?
  • Tell me about your culture?
  • Can I speak to three active clients?
  • What is your retention rate with your staff?
  • What is your retention rate with your clients?
  • What do you do to improve knowledge in your agency?
  • How do you perceive my business?

How important is agency culture?

Everyone: Very important. 


TH: A really great campaign comes down to two-way communication and having a good working relationship. An agency needs to be able to deliver good and bad news because not everything goes to plan!

AF: Motivated people work harder than less motivated people.

BH: We don’t have a large marketing team but we do have a strong culture, so it’s important that our agencies and partners have a degree of cultural fit. We normally have daily contact, so it’s important that we can get along personally and professionally.

DR: Cultures and common goals need to align – success is a mission.

BvdB: The internal brand culture will show you how the business will work with you. If they care about their own culture, they’ll care about the clients’ as well.

Is it better to communicate with an account manager or have access to the whole team?

Everyone agreed that it’s better to have access to the creative team because only having access to an account manager can cause a bottleneck.

Anything else that might influence your decision when looking to hire an agency?

TH: Passion and enthusiasm – often under-rated and makes a huge difference to the working relationship.

AF: Fees and performance related payments.

BH: There’s no shortage of agencies to choose from, so what sets them apart from others? Do they have a unique angle, a smarter way of doing things, a motivated team, strong industry relationships? Or does the sum of all their parts create something that can’t be copied?

DR: Profits and Loss (P&L).

BvdB: The knowledge level of the agency is important. They have to show me they aren’t using old tactics and strategies, but are on top of things.

Any advice for young brands before signing up with an agency?

TH: Don’t get seduced by agency hype – think about whether the agency ‘gets’ your brand and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s about building a relationship. Depth and honestly will stand the test of time, not fluff and being 100% right about everything. Make sure the agency listens and talks (in that order). Too many talk and don’t listen!

AF: Test them first on a project.

BH: I think it’s really important that they focus on what will grow their business. So they should choose an agency who is relentless in that focus and who wants to reach and go beyond the client’s targets. Young brands may not have much digital marketing experience, so they might want to choose an agency who can take initiative, make the right decisions and really drive performance without a huge steer from the brand.

DR: Do your homework.

BvdB: Don’t get blind sighted by first impressions and sweet talk, it’s like with dating: it’s more than the outside, it’s about personality.

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