3 Things to Look for in a Digital Marketing Agency

I’m a veteran of small staff associations, and one of the challenges leading small organizations is not having specialized staff on your team.  In a small shop, I wear many hats and rely on vendors in areas where the organization doesn’t scale.  

For instance, I’ve outsourced accounting for years, and at this point, finding a firm is straightforward.  From experience, I know what I need in an outsourced accounting firm.  

However, finding the right digital marketing agency remains difficult.  Too often discussions with new agencies get too far into the details of content management systems, SEO, responsive design, mouse versus touch, etc.   I know enough to understand the importance of these things, but not enough to know the best technical solution. More importantly, I never will. Technology changes too quickly for me to develop the same level of expertise I have in other areas.

I believe this is why finding the right digital marketing agency is so hard.  I can’t depend on my expertise as I do with many other decisions.  

I have to rely on instinct to choose an agency I believe can be trusted to deliver a product on schedule, on budget, with the functionality I need.  It’s what I call an ‘informed’ gut decision.

I’ve learned some hard lessons over the years.  More than one project went off the tracks. From these mistakes, I found three key points that help build trust up front and make a choice more than a simple gut decision.

illustrated hand paying money for code work

Tips for finding a technology partner you can trust. 

1. Choose an agency that takes the time to understand what you are trying to accomplish.

Many firms spend too much time talking about their cutting-edge designs rather than working to understand your needs.  I know that people who develop technology for a living want to talk about technology.  However, technology for technology’s sake doesn’t fix my problems. Last year my reality was increasing attendance at my annual conference while cutting costs to improve margins.  I needed a new conference website and had two priorities: 1) the site had to be easy for my staff to update, and 2) simple for visitors to see the educational sessions.  I remember the first call with Amar and his team. They kept bringing the conversation back to my objectives and focused on my needs.

2. Be prepared to prioritize.

Be open about your budget and then be ready to prioritize your needs.  There is nothing like agreeing to the scope of work, and then mid-project your vendor says “this is out-of-scope” or “for a little bit more we could give you what you want.”   Vendors often get blamed for scope creep, but clients with evolving requirements are often the cause. Look for a team that will help you figure out your priorities. A great partner will help you figure out what’s essential and deliver it on budget.  I recall a long list of “must-haves for my conference site. It turned out not all of them were essential as I thought. Amar and his team helped us prioritize and then found some creative ways to deliver the functionality we needed.

3. Do your homework

Many nonprofits still issue RFPs.  However, I find it better if you don’t ask for a proposal at the start.  Instead focus on documenting your needs, what you are trying to accomplish, timeframe for delivery, and budget. Then get referrals for agencies that have completed projects of similar scale for organizations like yours.  Seek out small agencies like AmDee. Smaller agencies provide tremendous value, and I’ve found it’s always better to be a small fish among small fish. Schedule calls with prospective agencies to review your requirements.  If you don’t come away with a better understanding of your project move on. Then narrow the list to those that best fit your needs and then request proposals. 

man silhouetted sitting at a desk

Finding the right agency for your project can be daunting.   Following these tips will help you find an agency you can trust to deliver.

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Mark T.

Mark is an Association Executive and Strategist for various membership organizations including ACCA, TLMI and NEMA among others. He is now the principle at The Association Catalyst, an independent consultancy serving the association market.

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Kristy Bauman

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