How to Vet a Marketing Agency

[This is the fourth of four posts in a series that tries to answer the question “To Insource or Outsource Marketing?” These posts are the result of me attending November’s Communitech Strategic Marketing P2P, which featured Ryan Burgio of Stryve Digital Marketing. Click here to read part one, here for part two, and here for part three.]

In the last post, we identified some of the situations in which you’d want to work with an outside marketing agency. In this post, we’re going to hear Ryan’s advice about how to find the correct agency for you.

Ryan says that when clients are considering Stryve as an agency, four questions are regularly asked:

  • Who have you worked with before?
  • What services do you provide?
  • What results can we expect?
  • How much do you cost?

Pretty typical stuff, but in Ryan’s view these aren’t the right questions. So what ones are?

Ryan provided the audience with a number of questions, and the reasoning behind each:

  • What results have you generated for other clients? You want specific answers here (e.g., clicks, downloads, leads, conversions, sales, etc.), not vague or meaningless figures.
    • How well did those results deliver to expectations?
  • What technologies do you utilize to deliver efficiency and effectiveness? Smaller or newer agencies will often lack efficiency.
    • Do you back up files? Do you use an offsite back-up? Third-party?
    • How will you deliver large files?
  • How do you keep files secure?
  • Who will be working on my account? Watch out for agencies that will initially use senior folks to secure the deal, but who will then hand you off to juniors.
    • What senior-level support will we receive?
  • What is your bandwidth for multiple accounts? How many clients do you currently have? In Ryan’s words, “If you’re one of two clients, be worried. If you’re one of thirty clients, be worried.”
  • How will you accommodate variations in need? Can your services be scaled up and scaled down? How does the pricing work?
  • What are the key deliverables? You want to get specific about milestones and delivery dates.
  • How do you stay on top of trends?
  • What is your professional development program?
  • What are your core values?
  • How can I access campaign and marketing data? Do I get direct access, or will I receive reports?

Ryan also provided us with some warning signs. These might not be deal-breakers, but they should give you pause and they warrant extra consideration:

  • The agency lacks specialization and claim to do it all
  • The agency is all strategy, and no implementation
  • The agency is all implementation and no strategy
  • You must use their proprietary platforms (you don’t want to get locked-in!)
  • The website lacks an overview of the team members
  • The website is full of fancy client logos, but lacks case studies
  • Your conversations are full of buzzwords
  • The agency is not performance-driven, or is vague
  • The website sucks
  • The agency bills exclusively by the hour
  • The agency always speaks in theory, and seldom in results
  • Your conversations jump to tactics
  • The agency presents you with options and recommendations before they’ve asked enough questions to really understand your needs
  • The agency seems desperate for your business (this could point to financial instability)
  • The agency has high turnover (maybe you can’t find this out directly, but you probably could on LinkedIn)

Ryan closed off his session with a list of 11 characteristics of a great agency:

  1. They are performance-driven
  2. They have a culture of learning, delivery, and accountability
  3. They push clients to do more
  4. Technology is ingrained in their culture
  5. They use tools to achieve efficiencies
  6. Creativity, technology, strategy, and behaviour
  7. Financial stability
  8. They have systems and processes
  9. They are partners, not providers
  10. They have low turnover
  11. They have a balanced client portfolio

His final advice was to “Invest in doers – the marketing services world is full of thinkers, talkers, and self-proclaimed gurus.”

“Invest in doers – the marketing services world is full of thinkers, talkers, and self-proclaimed gurus.” – Ryan Burgio



Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Marketing
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