EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Walton is CEO of Brand Acceleration, Inc., which focuses on economic development marketing. Jim’s tips, however, can apply to all company-marketing partnerships. Learn more at www.brandaccel.com.
After working in the advertising and marketing industry for several decades, I can tell you that there remains a lot of confusion about what a marketing firm or ad agency does. For many, the notion is that such firms are made up of purple-haired, bearded designer types with tattoos and flip-flops. Admittedly, there are some of those, but today’s successful marketing firms offer much more than just design.
So, how do you select a marketing firm? What skills and characteristics do you look for? Once selected, how do you make the partnership work? Here are a few pointers:
It’s a partnership
The first thing the client (economic developer) needs to remember is that it’s a partnership relationship. Great marketing firms work as part of your marketing team, not just as a vendor who is there to take orders and design stuff. They assume an ownership role in you and your community. They’re in it for the long haul.
Think big picture
Great organizations, including economic development organizations (EDO), have a well-thought-out set of goals, setting forth their vision for the community’s future. From the first day, the EDO should get the new marketing firm involved with the visioning, making them part of the team, and sharing the vision. This is not the time to hold back or to be secretive.
The marketing firm should provide depth and counsel
Have you ever hired a designer to create a new brochure or website, just to find that you spend much of your time teaching him or her about economic development? Maybe you even have to do all the copywriting because the designer doesn’t write.
A great marketing firm should know your industry and your audiences as well, or better, than you. Do they know any site selectors or real estate professionals? Have they ever visited c-suite offices or interviewed corporate executives about their expectations of marketing tools? To save yourself a lot of aggravation, seek out a marketing firm that knows your audiences. They should also demonstrate a deep knowledge of marketing principles. From start-to-finish, the marketing firm should know and be able to communicate your story.
Get them involved early and often
Let’s say your organization wants to target the food industry, and you’re considering ways to reach out to people in that industry. From that very moment, that’s when you should get your marketing firm involved. Rather than simply cranking out a food industry brochure, the marketing firm, working as your partner, will help flesh out important considerations and provide ideas for ways to successfully reach the audience with the right message.
Be open to new ideas
Coming off point number four, you should always be open to new and different ideas. A marketing firm with broad experiences may bring you a suggestion that you never considered. They will also offer suggestions that are more in tune with the big picture (point number two).
Cheaper isn’t necessarily better
We are often asked what our hourly rate is, as if a lower rate means a cheaper final product. It doesn’t. If a vendor has a low hourly rate, there’s probably a good reason for that. Instead, you should look for a firm, fixed price that won’t change unless the scope of work changes. That way, you’ll know how much to budget.
What services do they provide, and which ones do you need?
Some agencies offer a very narrow line of services, like web design. Others offer a much broader list, such as media planning and buying, public relations, video production, workforce attraction marketing, event planning and management, etc. It’s unwise to limit yourself by selecting a firm that is unable to grow with your needs.
Working with a marketing firm does not mean that all the burden is on their shoulders. They’re going to need your input to get work done, especially if the work is on a deadline. You’ll be asked to proofread work and answer numerous questions to be sure it meets your expectations. It’s important to respond right away.
By making your marketing firm a trusted partner in your community economic development marketing effort, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of success. Hire the best, and you’ll experience truly positive results.