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Hiring the right outsourced marketing agency can be a difficult and draining task. Even more frustrating if, after all that time and energy, you hire the wrong one. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Following a proven process is key, beginning with creating an agency shortlist.

Agency Shortlist Template

Before you begin your search, you’ll need somewhere to store your findings. You need a shortlist to keep track of the agencies you’re considering as you begin the narrowing process. We recommend including the following categories in a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets doc:

Buyer's Guide - Agency Shortlist Template

  • Agency Name
  • Website URL
  • Contact Name & Email
  • Referral Quote (if applicable)
  • Perceived Strengths
  • Perceived Weaknesses
  • RFI Sent (Y/N)
  • Additional Notes

To get the Agency Shortlist template, visit the full Agency Buyers Guide at https://room214.com/buyersguide

Finding Candidates for Your Agency Shortlist

Of course, before entering information here, you need to find the names to fill out your list. You find a marketing agency the same way you find anything else in the modern age. 

Word of Mouth: Ask friends partners and colleagues about agencies they’ve found success with in the past. Your intention here is not just to get a name or email, but to begin your qualification process. This means asking why the agency was successful in the past. Take some time to dig in here, you want the root of their recommendation. The response “Because they do great work,” gives no answer to what they can provide for your company. You should have a Referral Quote and at least some of their Perceived Strengths before even visiting their website.

Online Search: Google search for a marketing agency that could fill your needs. To help narrow your search, pick one qualifier such as;

  1. Industry (food marketing agency)
  2. Location (boulder marketing agency)
  3. Area of Expertise (social media marketing agency)
  4. Any combination of a, b and c. (boulder social media marketing agency)

With these searches, remember to dive deep. Go a couple pages in, quickly qualifying or rejecting the potential of these agencies based on the content their website presents to you. Pay no mind to the old saying “a contractor has the worst house on the block.” If an agency knows what they’re doing, they’ll make it visible to you.

Your marketing agency should be drinking its own Kool-Aid, if for no other reason than to demonstrate a basic level of strategic thinking for themselves.Click To Tweet

The Roadmap Questionnaire

Let’s talk a little more about how an agency can make it on this Shortlist of yours. You should create a Roadmap of basic criteria that your ideal agency will match. Each qualifier doesn’t have to fit all criteria but should fit at least half. Here are some suggestions for criteria:

  • Which are you more attracted to, and why: a Full Service or Specialty Agency?
  • Which might you consider more valuable, and why: A marketing agency with vertical (industry-specific) expertise, or one who has experience in multiple industries?
  • Do you feel better about the idea of working with a boutique agency, or one that’s part of a larger conglomerate or holding company?

Agency Roadmap Questionnaire

For a Roadmap Questionnaire template, visit the full Agency Buyers Guide at https://room214.com/buyersguide

Getting Onto the Agency Shortlist

So… where can you find details to answer the questions above?

Visit the potential agency’s website and spend most of your time on the Home and About pages. These two pages alone should give you more than enough information about whether to send an RFI or RFP.

The fastest way to qualify, or disqualify an agency is to measure how you feel about what you see.Click To Tweet

There are a couple things to look out for:

  1. Is there a good balance between show and tell? This question asks if the agency uses visual storytelling methods as well as text in paragraph form to tell their story. The best agencies will have a mix of both. Too many visuals can be distracting and look childish, while too much text can be boring and difficult to read. Look for a balance that best fits what you want your company or brand to display.
  2. Is there a good mix of plain language and industry jargon? This helps us determine whether their content is smart, or just trying to look smart. Experienced agencies will communicate with a mix of both plain language and industry jargon, but will recognize that using big words doesn’t make you sound smarter.

Princeton studies confirm that using simple synonyms instead of ‘erudite vernacular’ actually increased perceived intelligence. They should get their point across in a way that’s easy to read and understand.

The final thing you should consider is whether the marketing agency is local. Having a marketing agency with an office in your area can really help break down the communication barriers that many people face. Having the option to present ideas and collaborate in person can make a big difference. If you want your marketing agency to feel like part of the team, it’s a good idea to search for “marketing agencies near me.”

There you have it. Once you’ve filled that shortlist with potential agencies, its time to send RFIs and RFPs. Download the free Agency Buyer’s Guide for a full walkthrough and tons of free templates.

Agency Buyers Guide

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Isaiah Cormier

Isaiah Cormier is a Marketing Associate at Room 214, and has a focus on inbound marketing. He holds over a dozen HubSpot certifications and is studying Marketing and Neuroscience at Montana State University.
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