We’re not immune to the temptations of list making. If you’ve landed on this one, you’ve probably decided to seek a business partner to help you brand or market your business. Yes: before you start cutting checks to an agency, it’s a good idea to get to know them a bit.

You not only want to shed light on an agency’s capabilities and experience level, you also want to learn if its culture is compatible with your personality and working style. In other words, will you work well together? We hope our little list will help you with your search.

How do you learn about your clients?

An agency should be able to explain in plain language how they plan to gather information about you, your industry, and your goals. What information does the agency take into consideration before they start a project? The advertising world likes to sell itself on groundbreaking creativity, but it's the hours of painstaking research and information gathering behind the scenes that can mean the difference between lead-generating marketing and marketing that falls short.

It's the hours of painstaking research and information gathering behind the scenes that can mean the difference between lead-generating marketing and marketing that falls short.

What do you need from a new client? 

Success in business depends on teamwork. When Lead Marketing & Design onboards new clients, we collect a considerable amount of information up front. Exactly how much depends on the client and the potential scope of work. Ask the agency what they expect from you in terms of a time commitment and what type of information you’ll need to provide.

What advertising/marketing services do you provide most frequently? 

Advertising firms range from highly specialized to all-encompassing. Just because an agency lists every service under the sun on a website doesn’t mean that they are equally experienced and talented in all areas. You may find it helpful to get a sense of an agency’s workload. What are they assisting clients with on a daily basis, and what types of work do they do only once in a blue moon? 

How long have you been doing ______?

This replaces the usual, “how long have you been in business?” It’s better to ask about the specific service(s) you need. For example, “How long have you been designing web pages? How many branding projects have you been a part of? How many technical articles have you written in the past year?”  

Who are some of your current and past clients?

Any ad agency worth considering for your project(s) should be able to give you a straightforward list of current and past clients and examples of the work involved. And the agency should be able and eager to describe to you the results their work achieved. 

Do you have experience in my industry?

You may be more comfortable booking services with an agency that’s worked in your market before. However, this one is highly debatable. Sometimes, it’s a fresh perspective that can give your brand that lift it needs. At the end of the day, it’s most important that an agency can take the information you give them and move your project in a direction that results in a significant ROI for you. 

Can you tell me about a project that didn’t go well or achieve the desired results?

“We’ve always nailed every project and delivered unbelievable results . . . we don’t really have an example for you.” If you hear something like this, run the other way. It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in; no one delivers unbelievable, groundbreaking, genius-level stuff every single time. The advertising world is no different, even though people will try to sell you the opposite. The important point here is that your prospective advertising or marketing partner should be able to identify a project that fell short and what they did to adjust in order to improve the outcome. 

No one delivers unbelievable, groundbreaking, genius-level stuff every single time.

Who will work on my project?

One in-house staff member? Multiple staff members? A freelancer? Since you’re paying for the work, it pays to ask who is going to handle your specific project. Some people will caution you to stay away from freelancers or subcontractors because they deliver sub-par work. However, this isn’t even close to a fair assumption. For example, Lead Marketing & Design partnered with Flying Buttress Media recently to produce a video series for a client. Our video capacity was already tapped, so we partnered with an expert in promotional video production to keep the project on schedule.

What are your backgrounds?

Once you know who will be working on your project, you may want to ask about their backgrounds. If someone is positioned as an expert in content marketing, for example, how did he or she acquire this expertise? What training and experience does he or she have? What skills drive this expertise?

How long will my project take?

No two projects are ever the same, so forget about some magic day or week count. Here, you want to see if the agency can sketch out the typical delivery times for the type of work your project will involve. If you have hard dates for aspects of your project, be sure to communicate those and be sure they are incorporated in your agreement or contract to your satisfaction.

What steps will my project go through?

It’s helpful to get an idea of how an agency will take your project from concept to completion. Doing so gives you insights into their thought processes and how well they work together as a team.

How many times can I make revisions?

If the agency doesn’t clearly explain the different project stages and your involvement in them, you need to ask. Generally, you can expect the opportunity to make a couple rounds of revisions. If initial information gathering sessions were well conceived and productive, the need for excessive revisions shouldn’t be an issue. At some point, however, you’re going to incur charges for changes.

How do you charge/price your services?

An initial proposal with a ballpark price is OK, but before you sign on the line you want a cost breakdown for your project—how much each stage or component of the project will cost and what’s included in the price along the way. If you’ve ever created something from nothing before, whether that’s a website, a song, or a mahogany headboard, you know that sometimes creation just takes longer. Be sure to ask the prospective agency how much of a cost overrun is allowed in the event that a project requires a bit more effort to achieve success.

Will I have any ongoing expenses after my project?

For example, you may have to shell out a yearly web hosting fee for your new website.

Why do your services cost______?

Can the agency list the factors that influence the costs of its services?

How do you measure success?

The agency should have a clear, detailed plan to help you understand if your new branding or marketing efforts are paying off. What tools or metrics will the agency use?

What do I own after my project is complete?

Make sure you’ll continue to have access to any work you’ve paid for in the event that you decide to break up with a particular agency. Also, make sure everyone is clear on how and when those assets, such as images or logos, will be delivered. 

Make sure you’ll continue to have access to any work you’ve paid for.

Should I really ask all these questions?

From our perspective, we prefer it when a client takes the time to grill us to great length using all or some of the questions above. Any time invested up front in getting to know each other generally pays off down the road—either in more effective work, reduced costs for the client, or both.

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