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Tips & insights to help business owners make a wise decision when hiring an agency

Learning how to hire a marketing agency is a critical skill that will help you make one of the most important decisions for your business, organization, or non-profit. If you hire the right marketing agency, they will work in your best interests and develop programs & campaigns that truly help you grow. If you hire the wrong marketing agency (or PR agency), you can end up with a group that’s working in their best interests vs. yours. That can hurt your business in the long run.

We at DeWinter Marketing & PR are known for being a bunch of straight shooters, and many of us on the team come from the Heartland (the Midwest). So we sometimes have to roll our eyes at the things agencies say just to get your business.

So here, for the record, are some of the claims we have heard over the years, and our perspective on what it all really means.  Hopefully, these insights will help you wade through the “marketing speak,” assess what’s right and true, and make a good decision on which marketing or pr agency truly is best for your company.

How To Hire A Marketing Agency | DeWinter Marketing & PR – DenverUniversal Marketing Agency Claims

Marketing Agency Claim 1: “We have 100 years of experience, collectively.”

It’s definitely important to hire an experienced marketing, PR, or website team. But this claim really means nothing. The key is: How much experience does the actual team leader have who will handle your account on a day-to-day basis? The same applies to the account team that will be servicing you. If the principals have 30 years of experience but the actual account executives only have 5 years of experience in the industry, that will affect the strength of the programs they develop for you to grow your organization.

The Questions To Ask:

  • Who will be handling the strategy for our account?
  • Who will be our day-to-day contact on the account?
  • Who will be on our account team?
  • How much involvement will the agency principal really have?


Marketing Agency Claim 2: “We offer cheap rates using overseas workers.

Everyone’s eyes light up when they hear: “cheap rates.” But the old adage: you get what you pay for, applies here. There are many downsides to hiring those overseas workers. They may offer cheap labor but here are the downsides:

  • Significant time zone differences can cause project delays
  • Language barriers
  • No real leverage to manage them if they screw up or don’t get the job done
  • Possible breaches of intellectual property leaked to overseas companies

The Questions To Ask:

  • WHERE is our account team located?
  • If they are overseas, how do you handle the significant differences in time zones?
  • What happens if overseas team members don’t fulfill their assignments?
  • How will you protect our intellectual property if you’re using overseas creative talent?
  • We also like to ask: Why aren’t you buying American?


Marketing Agency Claim 3: “We deploy the latest marketing technologies.”

There’s a phrase going around the industry called “marketing fatigue.” It’s happening to marketers who are hit with new marketing technologies weekly and have to keep assessing what’s effective and what’s not. It’s also happening to customers and consumers who are being bombarded by a relentless stream of automated marketing “pings” and are shutting down as a result.

One of the biggest mistakes that we see from agencies and companies is jumping on the latest marketing technology without having first set a strong marketing foundation. To put it bluntly, all the money you spend on a new marketing technology isn’t worth spit if you don’t have the marketing foundation set first.

A solid marketing foundation includes a focus on business fundamentals like: competitor research, price point research, customer profiling, differentiation & selling messages, setting your brand, building an effective marketing and sales plan & more. The key point is: Until an agency has done a thorough review of your marketing foundation, it makes no sense to be advising you to use the latest fad marketing technologies.

The Questions To Ask:

  • What’s your process for setting a strong marketing foundation?
  • How do you determine whether a new marketing technology is appropriate?


Marketing Agency Claim 4: “Hire us because we know your industry.”

The best advice we’ve ever heard about hiring is as follows:

  • First, you hire for INTELLIGENCE & WORK ETHIC. (This can’t be taught. Either you have it, or you don’t.)
  • Second, you hire for the SKILLS you need.
  • Third, you hire for INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE.

In addition, an agency can claim that they have experience in your industry. But it may not be folks assigned to your account team.

The Questions To Ask:

  • What experience does our day-to-day account executive have in our industry?
  • What experience does our account team actually have in our industry?


How To Hire A Marketing Agency | DeWinter Marketing & PR – Denver

Universal Public Relations Agency Claims

PR Agency Claim 1:  “We will get you great press because we personally know the media.”

This one really makes us sigh. You see, Courtney DeWinter, the company president, has a journalism degree and has worked as a reporter, staff editor, and managing editor. Simply put, this claim is bunk. Why? No reporter out there will cover a story just because they know the PR person. Their reputation is on the line every time a story appears with their name on it.  The only thing that might happen is that a reporter might take your call or return your call because they know you. They will NOT write a story out of personal friendship if they are a legitimate reporter

Furthermore, reporters usually are assigned to “beats,” or specific topic areas.  You have your real estate reporters, finance reporters, technology reporters, and so on.  And while there are plenty of reporters and editors who cover the same topic area for years, there are just as many who change beats frequently and even change publications. So as PR folks are claiming they know a reporter in your industry or topic area, it’s quite possible that that media contact person has just been transferred to a new beat.

The Question(s) To Ask:

  • When was the last time a reporter wrote a story for you out of personal friendship?
  • How often do you re-verify your media lists to account for changes in staff and topic areas?


PR Agency Claim 2:  “The agency principal really knows your industry.”

The agency principals may be pitching for your business. But unless you can afford to pay the $200/$250-per-hour rates of the agency principal at a traditional marketing or PR agency, your work will be funneled to a more affordable account executive. The smaller your budget, the more junior-level the person who will be assigned to handle the work.

The Questions To Ask:

  • Who will really be doing the work on my account on a daily basis?
  • And how many years of experience do they have?


PR Agency Claim 3:  “We specifically will do this job for you.”

There are plenty of agencies with top-level expertise and a depth of experience.  And there are just as many more “consultants” who don’t have experience in the work they are planning to do for you. So here’s our question: how can a consultant do a quality job of directing a project if they don’t have any experience in that particular area?  You would be surprised how many “consultants” take on the work for which they have no experience, imply that they can and will do the work, and then subcontract the work out to someone you will never see, meet, or know about.

The Question(s) To Ask:

  • Do you have experience in this? Please give me some examples and references.
  • Will you actually be the person doing this work?
  • If not, who will actually be doing the work for us, and where are they located?


PR Agency Claim 4:  “We will give you rock-bottom, low rates.”

The typical scenario we see happening is that agencies hungry for work (to feed all that overhead of big offices and full-time staffs) will offer you a really low price for a job, just to get you in the door. But remember this: if it sounds to good to be true, it usually is.

If they are charging below market rate for a specific job, it’s because they really need the work NOW and they intend to bill you higher rates down the road. That first, low-cost job is called a “loss-leader.” They are willing to lose money on the job to get the business long-term, and eventually, the money they lost will be billed back to you on other jobs. Alas, nothing in this life is free.

The Question(s) To Ask:

  • What’s the billing rate for this project?
  • What would the billing rate be for future projects?
  • How can you afford to bill this project at 50% lower prices than the other bidders?


PR Agency Claim 5: “We have special software that will make it really cheap to work with us.”

Ha! We love this one. The bottom line is that good marketing and public relations are part science, part experience, and part intuition. You have to watch what’s trending & know how to craft a story. There’s no software in the world that will do all this. In addition, agencies are for-profit operations. If they tempt you with low rates because of “software” that streamlines operations, it’s important to understand that you WILL be paying for that software. It just may not be obvious as to how much you are paying because it may be hidden in the budget.

The Question(s) To Ask:

  • What specifically is this special software and what does it do?
  • Is it off-the-shelf software or a custom application?
  • What’s the real value of this software and how will it lower the budget?
  • How much will we be paying for this software, and where is it listed in the budget?


If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll have a good chance of hitting it out of the park when you start the process to hire a marketing agency, or hire a PR agency.

Courtney DeWinter is the president & founder of Denver-based DeWinter Marketing & PR in Denver, Colorado. She is a marketing & PR consultant with 25+ years of experience in branding, marketing, public relations, websites & journalism.

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