A DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO CHOOSING YOUR FIRST MARKETING AGENCY

We’ve launched a free, definitive guide to help small businesses take their first steps towards appointing an external marketing resource.

We introduce the different marketing disciplines, explain what makes a good brief and highlight some practical steps to take in order to maximise your investment.

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INTRODUCTION

In 2017, there were more than 5.65 million UK businesses with less than 50 employees – over 99% of all businesses 1 – and that number is on the rise. Today there are more than 2.2 million more UK businesses than at the turn of the millennium 2 , as the trend for entrepreneurialism continues.

Small business owners face many challenges, from cash flow and resourcing, to inflation and cybercrime. One thing that continues to test owners, however, is marketing.

How can small businesses differentiate in their marketplace? How much investment should be allocated to marketing? And which marketing channels are right for the business? Marketing is an increasingly specialist discipline that can overwhelm some business owners. In fact, one study shows only 27% of small businesses feel their marketing strategy is effective 3 .

Only 27% of small businesses feel their marketing strategy is effective

This guide from Agency Match provides start-ups and small business owners with everything they need to know when taking their first steps towards appointing an external marketing agency. We will set out the benefits that can be achieved through external marketing partners, detail how to get the most from your appointment and share some best practice insights from experienced industry professionals.

  1. House of Commons Briefing Paper Number 06152 Business statistics
  2. FSB UK Small Business Statistics
  3. Winning over customers and investors biggest challenges facing UK start-ups in 2018

WHAT CAN MARKETING DELIVER?

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), marketing is ‘the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’ This is more than just advertising and social media; it is a strategic approach to the way in which you meet your customers’ needs.

A good marketing strategy is built on research, segmentation and data. It can drive empathy, engage customers, change perceptions and most importantly create value. In fact, research shows marketing contributes three times more value to a business strategy than any other organisational function.

MARKETING CHANNELS AND ACTIVITIES

marketing word cloud

Before you begin to develop a marketing strategy, make sure you know your customers inside out – how do they search for products, what media do they consume, what drives their purchasing decision?

INTEGRATED vs SPECIALIST MARKETING

Marketing is an increasingly complex discipline, with new types and channels of marketing constantly evolving.

You may choose to appoint an integrated marketing agency that could look after your entire spectrum of marketing requirements. Alternatively, you might prefer a team of individual agencies with specialist expertise. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and there are no clear boundaries between each discipline. In many cases, one will complement the other, so it is important to get the right support.

For example, if you are an e-retailer and you know your customers are online, then you will need digital and social media marketing expertise. In a more traditional industry, such as engineering, then PR may be valuable too – but it is important to do your research and understand your customers.

To help you, we have prepared a basic introduction to some of the most common and effective marketing disciplines. Which do you feel would be useful for your business?

WHICH DISCIPLINE(S) COULD ADD VALUE TO YOUR BUSINESS?

 

Branding

BRANDING

A branding agency can help to develop a new brand, spanning everything from a logo through to customer segmentation and complete visual identity.

Social media marketing

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Use an agency to help develop a social media strategy – understanding which are the best social media platforms for your business to be on, how and when to post, plus how to boost engagement.

pay per click

PPC (PAY PER CLICK)

A digital agency can offer a variety of services including planning, implementing and evaluating a PPC campaign based on comprehensive analytics. What’s more, PPC activity is 100% measurable, so a good agency will be able to constantly refine your campaign.

pay per click

SEO (SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION)

If you need to be seen online, it’s important to consider SEO. This is all about lifting you higher up the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Using a combination of onsite (optimising content on your own website, frontend and backend) and offsite (securing links from other websites) tactics, a digital or SEO agency can take steps to make sure your business is found on search engines like Google.

Advertising

ADVERTISING

Do you know which magazines or websites your customers consume? An advertising agency can help you plan a strategic advertising campaign to reach the most suitable people, most effectively.

Public Relations

PUBLIC RELATIONS

Whilst advertising is controlling what you say, PR is controlling what others say about you. A PR agency can get you column inches online and offline to help promote your business to key audiences.

Email marketing

EMAIL MARKETING

Email marketing can be complex, which is why it pays to use a specialist who has the knowledge and the software to plan, send and evaluate campaigns to your database without compromising data regulations.

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

How can you ensure a successful appointment?

We’ve asked three entrepreneurs from the other side of the fence.

Sarah Kent Managing Director, Whistle PR

Sarah Kent Managing Director, Whistle PR

It’s important to buy expertise rather than resource when you’re just starting out.

What qualities should companies look for when appointing a marketing agency?

The best agencies work as an extension of your business, so select a consultancy in the same way as you would recruit for your team. Expertise and a track record are important but a like-minded culture and the right chemistry can make all the difference.

Choose an agency with a flexible offering and pricing structure. It’s important to buy expertise rather than resource when you’re just starting out.

Does an agency need sector experience to deliver results for a client in that sector?

Not necessarily. Previous sector experience can be useful as media relationships are often already established and the agency is likely to understand your industry issues from day one. However, a fresh perspective and the ability to learn from other sectors can be really valuable. Doing things differently from a communications perspective can give a start up a real competitive edge!

What one piece of advice would you give to help choose the right partner?

Once you have a final shortlist, ask to speak to two or three of the agency’s existing clients before making your final decision.

Pete Hitchman Director, The Enamel Works

Pete Hitchman Director, The Enamel Works

You need a marketing partner who can work to the same time restraints, the same schedules and the same demands that your own business works.

What qualities should companies look for when appointing a marketing agency?

I’m a big believer in flexibility. You need a marketing partner who can work to the same time restraints, the same schedules and the same demands that your own business works. So if you operate in a sector that works 24/7, don’t choose a rigid agency.

Does an agency need sector experience to deliver results for a client in that sector?

Not necessarily, no. For me it’s more important to find somebody that applies the right strategy and approach to your requirements. Whether they have worked with a direct competitor or not is irrelevant as long as they take the time to understand your market, your products, your customer journey and your business culture. You will get a feel for this if you undergo a competitive pitch process with two or three agencies.

What one piece of advice would you give to help choose the right partner?

Go with your gut feeling. From the first phone call you’ll get an idea of personality, understanding and (most importantly if you ask me) desire – whether that agency really wants to work with you or not. Remember, you’re the client and they should be pulling out all the stops to win your business.

Matt Fleming Co-Founder of Aylesworth Fleming and Space & Time Media

Matt Fleming Co-Founder of Aylesworth Fleming and Space & Time Media

There are lots of ways an SME can be a trailblazer – brand differentiation is crucial – but buying an expensive consultant that doesn’t understand their core market shouldn’t be one of them.

What qualities should companies look for when appointing a marketing agency?

The best agencies work as an extension of your business, so select a consultancy in the same way as you would recruit for your team. Expertise and a track record are important but a like-minded culture and the right chemistry can make all the difference.

Does an agency need sector experience to deliver results for a client in that sector?

This is always a contentious issue. I come from a specialist agency background and have spent my entire career working mainly in one specific sector. Some argue that makes me less adventurous and a bit too safe. I would argue that saves my clients from expensive experimentation and avoidable mistakes.

The other ‘why not?’ is the question of conflict of interests, but I take this view; two clients from the same sector in the same agency is a conflict – twenty-two clients from the same sector in the same agency is a specialisation. If the agency hasn’t been cited for a conflict keeping all those same sector clients under their roof, they must have the independent teams and bamboo walls situation sorted.

Then add in the benefits of economies of scale, media and industry contacts, market awareness, etc etc – it’s a no-brainer.

What one piece of advice would you give to help choose the right partner?

Take your time. Decide exactly what you need from this key supplier and do your research; call up their accounts, see how they’re trading, ask for references. But, in the end, ‘gut-feel’ is as important as anything else. You’ve got to like the people you are going to be working with.

HOW TO WRITE A MARKETING BRIEF

When a small business makes the decision to source a marketing partner, it is important to prepare a detailed brief. This should include details of your company, key products and service, target audience(s) and main competitors. It should also outline any existing marketing activity, your company vision and values, and what you want to achieve from marketing.

The agency will then use this brief to develop and deliver their proposals, which are the first steps towards a successful marketing plan. A good brief can:

  • ENSURE CLARITY
  • IMPROVE COMMUNICATION
  • SAVE TIME AND MONEY
  • ESTABLISH WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE
  • HELP DELIVER THE RIGHT WORK, FASTER

A good agency might challenge the brief if they feel there is a better way to do things. Don’t be defensive – this is a positive sign and shows proactivity.

WRITING A BRIEF

There are numerous templates online to help you prepare a marketing brief, but we have collated some of the best hints and tips below.

  1. Keep the briefing form simple

    The brief is one of the most important parts of any agency/relationship so invest time to include all useful information, but keep it simple by including detailed documents as attachments

  2. Be creative, think about how you can stand out

    Research shows this encourages the agency to increase their own creativity in response

  3. Avoid internal jargon

    Remember they don’t know your business yet

  4. Be open to meeting and discussing the brief in person

    The best agencies will request at least a phone call

  5. Mark your goalposts from the start

    For budget, timing and expectations

SUGGESTED HEADERS FOR A MARKETING BRIEF:

  1. Company background
  2. Sales/marketing objectives
  3. Describe the company in three words (e.g. friendly, personal, corporate, disruptor)
  4. What makes your company different?
  5. Communications channels (e.g. website, sales literature, social media, catalogue, emails)
  6. Target audience(s)
  7. Key messages
  8. What is it you need your marketing partner to help you achieve?
  9. Timings for marketing activity
  10. Budget for marketing activity
  11. Evaluation/success criteria
  12. Details of agency response (e.g. pitch)
Download your briefing form here

Five steps to appointing your first external marketing resource.

  1. Make sure you understand your customers - Get an idea of what media they consume, how best to reach them and what drives their purchasing decision. This will determine which type of agency you need.

  2. Write a brief - Remember to include all the relevant information, but keep it simple and easy to understand. This could shape the success of your marketing activity.

  3. Find a shortlist of agencies - Agency Match takes the hard work out of this process. Register with Agency Match for free here and we will put forward suitable agencies for you to consider from over 3,500 UK agencies.

  4. Undertake the pitch process - Set the brief to two or three agencies and see what they would do for your organisation.

  5. Appoint an agency - Your first steps towards marketing success are complete. Work together to ensure your investment is well spent.

Ready to take your first steps?

Register with Agency Match for free to help find your ideal marketing partner, whatever your requirement.

Find your ideal marketing partner

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