With so many great options on the marketing landscape, there’s never been a better time to market a product or service. In fact, a recent CMO survey reports that almost every industry anticipates “a hiring increase of marketers during the next year.” And yet, while there’s never been a better time, there’s also never been a more confusing time. “New technologies are breeding all kinds of “experts” so clients don't have an objective formula for figuring out who's good and who’s not,” says Joellyn (Joey) Sargent, an Atlanta consultant who’s been on the hiring side as a senior VP.
Adds Mark Cubine, marketing VP of a Birmingham software company: “Lots of people/companies can put on a good presentation and put forth a good proposal. But none of that means anything to me in terms of proving they are the right company to hire.” Vancouver Strategist Jeff Swan agrees: “Sometimes the greatest pitches can lead to a lower service level, while the truly talented simply don't have the time or ability to put together a flashy pitch.”
I’ve seen many businesses owners and managers paralyzed by their confusion, fear, and distrust of marketing and marketing people. These are owners and managers who desperately need marketing help, and know it, but don’t know how to move ahead with confidence.
“It's like taking your car to a mechanic,” says New York marketing director Catherine Ortiz. “Sometimes you get great service and sometimes you get taken because you don't completely understand the dynamics of how your car works.”
That thought is echoed by Sargent, who says, “Finding the right fit can be a challenge, especially for someone who really doesn't know marketing—which is why they need help.”
And, what about those who do understand marketing?
Christine Thompson, a Seattle consultant who’s held senior marketing roles at Apple, says, “Mid-level managers inside larger enterprises are required to procure services only from the pool available from the approved vendors, and that can prevent them from access to the very best talent.” Regarding smaller companies, Thompson agrees with previous comments: “As for smaller firms, often the issue is that clients don't really understand what the real problem is, and therefore the solutions they seek are ill-matched.”
Ultimately, a business owner or manager may never truly know the talents of a marketing resource until things begin. Yet there are some simple steps that, if taken, will greatly improve the odds of beginning with the right one. Before listing them, a quick comment on referrals: Referrals are a good, obvious way to go, but they should be considered nothing more than a good starting point if you want to find a truly good match. Here’s want to do next:
1. See and love the work
Invest some serious, undistracted time thoroughly reviewing the work. Do you love it?
2. Check credentials and experience
The professional pedigree and experience of the person, or people, handling your business can make all the difference. So, be sure you find a kick-ass bio on their website. Otherwise, look them up on LinkedIn.
Ultimately, it comes down to this. On their website, do they display great testimonials and case studies? A couple, or many? Do they talk about results?
4. Beware of the hidden agenda
Many marketing “experts’” expertise is limited to a niche, and sometimes a fairly narrow one. Unfortunately, that’s not always apparent, so beware. They may be advising you to do something because it’s what they sell and not what’s in your company’s best interest.
5. How well do they market themselves?
You’d assume that any marketing firm looking to help you would be awesome at marketing themselves. Not true. And I’ve heard all the excuses, from “the shoemaker with no shoes” to “I’m just way too busy with my clients.” As Joan Rivers says, “Pa-leeeeeeze!” The very last thing you want to do is to hire a marketing firm that sucks at marketing themselves.
6. How’s their G-Cred?
G-cred is what shows up when you Google them. It's an easy and valuable litmus test.
7. Do they know social media?
Talking about it is one thing. Find out how effectively they’re putting it to use. Do they have a great blog? Facebook page? YouTube channel? Do they Tweet? And, are they tweeting about the bar they’re drinking at, or something that reflects true marketing savvy?
8. Awards and press
This one can be a bit controversial because while awards can be a great litmus test for some, for others, not so much. The argument is that few award shows factor in “results” as a winning criteria. Also, if an agency is doing lots of boasting about their awards, it might be a way of overcompensating for other major weaknesses. On the other hand, if someone has no awards, that’s not good either. So, seek a happy medium.
Press-worthy work is a good litmus test because great press can be a great, free, added benefit for you. So, find out if they’ve gotten any. If they have, are we talking the local PennySaver, or The New York Times?
John Follis, of Follis Inc, is a 25-year business owner and marketing exec. In ‘93, his previous agency, Follis/DeVito/Verdi, was the second most awarded in New York. John is also author of "How to Attract and Excite Your Prospects" and his innovative “Marketing Therapy” program helps businesses around the US achieve their marketing goals faster, smarter, and more cost-effectively.