We've written this article to assist and educate anyone seeking to hire a company for advertising management.
Certifications can be faked or manipulated and they do not always translate to optimal strategies or a return on your investment.
As a company, we definitely value certifications internally because we can confirm our staff's knowledge. We also test them beyond the certification exams to further prove their skills. But externally, we are very cautious and rely heavily on our other methods to verify the quality of an individual or company. We recommend this practice for those evaluating
a marketing agency as well. However, a company listing it's certifications does at least tell you they are aware of them and made some effort to comply. So they're not worthless!
How are certifications faked or manipulated?
Google allows anyone to login to an email address and complete their certification. There is no real identity verification. So one person can login to multiple accounts and complete them. This is the same for other platforms like Facebook. They also are wide open to searching for answers to copy and paste, or to have someone sitting beside the test-taker to give them the answers.
Takeaway: Ask the agency you're interviewing "How are your staff members trained?" The answer they give should be clear and thorough. If they just say "Certifications. Certifications. Certifications." beware! But note that most agencies don't get asked this question, so if they fumble, that's not necessarily an indicator that they're not a trust worthy company.
Strategy First, Products & Services Second
Many agencies are service and product first, as opposed to strategy first. This means that they are motivated to solicit you on a particular product or service, even if that's not best for your business. Strategy-first agencies look at your industry landscape to get a view of all of your opportunities as well as their risks and rewards. This information, up-front, is simultaneously making the agency accountable to you while also respecting your right to be informed of how your budget is spent
before it's spent.
Experience Beyond Ad Management
Advertising agencies are easy to start because it only takes one loyal and growth-minded client to fund an entire agency, so there are many to choose from. You pair this with the variety of different forms of advertising and marketing methods (websites, social media, search, etc...) and it's completely overwhelming!
Below is a list of the different types of agencies out there. Ultimately, a strategy-first business that has in-house staff - especially strategists - who have experience in multiple fields, will result in a more well-rounded and informed advertising strategy:
- These are generally the worst companies to hire for advertising management. But they can often be great for SEO. This is because SEO is a more technical process, requiring code-level modifications. They tend to have fewer staff members (see "Staff & Size of Agency" below) and may not be able to consider all of the aspects of your marketing. Website Development Companies
- Application development companies rarely offer marketing services in-house but they tend to be reliable and robust companies and operate more efficiently because they're engineers. This means they are best at understanding complex problems and identifying and creating solutions. Application Development Companies
- SEO companies are a SEO Companies major hit-or-miss and there are a lot of garbage companies out there. Chances are, if the company advertises as just a SEO company they're using black-hat techniques (things that can get you banned), gray hat techniques (things that eventually become black hat) or are so limited in scope that they aren't educating you about other opportunities even if they're more efficient. We recommend choosing a company that offers SEO, but among other services.
- This term is often interchangeable with ad management companies or marketing firms. But technically it's a company that focuses solely on managing your Advertising Agencies advertising: Google Ad Management, Facebook Ad Management, Instagram Ad Management, Pinterest Advertising, Microsoft Bing Advertising and typically only on the internet.
- This is probably what you're looking for as "Digital Marketing" is encompassing of all of the above mentioned services and some fringe stuff. Digital Marketing Agencies
- These types are technically separate types, but often used interchangeably. A Content Marketing Agency refers to a company that researches and develops interesting content (Blog Posts, Press Releases, Review Sites, Forum Reputation Management, Photography, Video, Animation, Infographics, etc...) using strategists, designers, programmers and more to promote your business. A Content Marketing Agency / Full Service Digital Marketing full service digital marketing company does that PLUS all of the other items mentioned.
Which of these are we? We are a
Full Service Digital Marketing & Application Development Company We offer website development, SEO, advertising management across all platforms, content development, photography, videography, animation and much more!
We have an office and a complete photography and video production studio in Sherwood, Oregon with ambassador staff in Wilsonville, which is historically our home base.
Fixed Budgets vs Flexible Budgets
It's distasteful to be asked what your budget is too early in negotiations. But if all of our potential clients started the conversation with "This is my max budget." it would help us narrow down what opportunities are the best fit for them within their budget much sooner. We have clients that spend a few hundred bucks with us, and we have clients who spend tens of thousands or more. We want to give each client the mix of products that will give the best results for their budget.
Takeaway: If you are just getting started in advertising then decide what you're willing to spend for the first 3-6 months and assume you don't generate ROI until the end of that period.
Most agencies offer fixed budgets or flexible budgets. We offer both because we have found that first-time advertisers want a figure they can count on while experienced advertisers want efficient spending. Flexible budgets, at least in our company, allow us to mix and match products and services by drawing from a "General Retainer". When you rely only on a fixed-price on a per-product/service the cost can increase quickly! As a result, the agency is happy because they're getting paid well, but there is usually overlap between services - such as reporting, that are essentially being paid for twice.
Takeaway: Do you need a steady fixed budget? Or do you want efficiency and effectiveness?
Staff & Size of Agency
In 15 years of business almost all of the agencies we know of – especially in Portland, Oregon – are a few people to a dozen or so.
Agencies with just a few people or less on staff tend to be less expensive, and you get more bang for your buck because they are trying to grow and want to impress you and earn a great review. There are real benefits there if you find a reliable agency. But, they tend to need grace with the timeline and limited but specific types of mistakes along the way.
Agencies with a dozen or more staff tend to have a higher costs but provide a more comprehensive service, determined to let you hear "Yes, we can do that." more often than with smaller agencies. They also tend to be more on the cutting edge of trends and technology.
Our team, for example, has these staff members:
Principal - Oversees quality control, ensures staff has what they need to deliver that quality, works intimately with clients ensuring complete satisfaction.
Executive Assistant - Contacts clients regularly to preempt their needs, assists other staff with their requirements, keeps the principal organized.
Operations Manager - Occasionally works with clients, but primarily focused on ensuring managerial responsibilities across all departments is optimally executed and on schedule.
Marketing Manager - Responsible for creating, managing, analyzing and reporting on the performance of our clients advertising campaigns.
Multimedia Director - In our case, our Principal fills this role.
Photographer - Manages all aspects of a photography project excluding finance, some admin, and supportive services like digital design or web development.
Programmers - We have 3-12 on projects during any week.
Designers - Responsible for all design and illustration related work such as logos, business cards, website design, infographics, etc...
Server Administrators - We have two, for redundancy, on call.
All of our staff are considered Strategists in their respective departments and work as a unified team to develop and define strategy for projects or specific aspects of projects.
Takeaway: Ask the agency "Tell me about your team. What is their background and experience? What is an example of a time they worked together on a project?" This, too, is not a common question, but it can tell you a lot about how prepared they are and how growth-minded they are. We hope this article was helpful to you! Please let us know if you have any feedback or further questions.
While we hope it has persuaded you to hire us, we hope even more it is a shield for you and your business moving forward!