Here at LMD, we get quite a few inquiries from prospective clients who know they “need marketing”—but struggle with being more specific than that. We get it: buying services from a marketing agency can be confusing. After all, marketing is grey matter. It doesn’t come in pre-measured, off-the-shelf, easy-to-use packages. So we put together some surefire tips to streamline the buying process and, ultimately, help you hire the right marketing agency–a true partner that will champion your success. Below are our 3 tips to help you become a savvy buyer of marketing services.

Tip #1: Define Success

Before reaching out to an agency, ask yourself the following questions to get clear on the real problem you are trying to solve. We recommend writing these questions down and talking through them with your colleagues to get their perspectives and consensus.

  • Situation: What’s keeping you up at night? Why are you seeking these marketing services? Define your organization’s current state and desired future state to help give shape to what’s driving the project.
  • Goals: What are trying to achieve? Clearly state what you want to accomplish and what defines success for your organization.  
  • Deliverables: What do you expect to have in hand when the project is done?
  • Timing: When do you need it? And are there upcoming milestones that are driving your timing (for example, an annual tradeshow or a big pitch)? 
  • Budget: I know, I know, you’d rather not say (or maybe you don’t know). If you truly don’t have one, can you provide a not-to-exceed number or a range? A ballpark estimate will help an agency a) determine if they are a fit; and b) develop a proposal that includes strategies, tactics, and solutions that you can actually afford. By having even a tentative budget in mind, you won’t waste time talking to agencies that are beyond what you can afford.
  • Evaluation criteria: Are you looking for a long-term strategic partner to help you master a new market or a one-and-done trade show booth? Develop a list of evaluation criteria and determine the make-or-break factors that will drive your decision to go with a particular service provider.

Tip #2: Do Your Due Diligence

Based on your answers to the above, we recommend developing a written request for proposal (RFP) and sending it to 4-5 agencies. In your RFP, be as specific as possible about your problem, current situation, future goals, needs, expectations, and project requirements. In addition, the RFP should request the following information from agencies:

  • Process. Experienced marketers follow a disciplined process to develop effective creative products. Request that respondents define their process and make sure it is rooted in research. Remember, strategy should drive creative–not the other way around.
  • Approach. Ask the agency to document how they will go about solving your challenge and ensure that they help you meet your goals.
  • Past Performance with Results. Request 3-4 examples of past projects that have similar requirements to your project. Ask to see both the creative and the strategy. It’s easy to be impressed by pretty pictures but design without strategy is just art. And art won’t get you results. 
  • Account team. Who will you be working with day-to-day? Ask for the qualifications of the people who will be managing your project, developing the deliverables, and providing strategic input. (Beware that some agencies will pitch a senior team, and then send junior folks to the kick-off meeting and actually work on the project.) 
  • References. By asking the right questions, you can glean some good information about what it will be like to work with an agency. Be sure to ask, “How did the agency respond to changes in scope?” “What is their communication style?” “Why is this agency a good fit for your organization?”
  • Terms and conditions: A great agency will have a clear set of terms and conditions that spell out payment terms, delivery costs, liability, protections, and other business-related terms. Agreeing on terms and conditions upfront will avoid surprises, mismatched expectations, and legal disputes.

Pro tip! Include a Q&A for Agencies. By allowing agencies to ask questions, you can streamline responses by providing any clarity they may need, tighten the project scope, and surface considerations that you may not have thought about.

Tip #3: Buy the Process and the People—NOT the Stuff

You’ve sent out your RFP and you’ve gotten a handful of solid responses. Now to make a decision.

Remember as you’re reviewing agency proposals, marketing is a process that will get you to your end goal. So, don’t buy the tactical stuff. Buy the process—the strategic thinking and the people who have the insight and experience to solve your problem. Chemistry is an intangible that can make or break your project. If you want a great agency relationship, then make the time to get to know the people. Meet face-to-face before you buy to figure out if your personalities and work styles are compatible. Insist on meeting the people you will be working with day-to-day, not just the people who will parachute in once in a while on the project. Good chemistry builds great relationships—and great agency relationships produce results.

We all know that by failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail. And the same is true in any outsourcing project. But buying marketing services doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task. By clearly defining success, insisting that potential partners prove their worth, and keeping your eye on the prize (and not the stuff), you’re setting your project up for success and cultivating a productive relationship from the get-go.

Questions (or have a project you’d like us to bid on)? Contact LMD today. Happy buying!



With three decades of agency experience, Karen leads the LMD team and drives growth for the company and its clients. She is passionate about helping clients answer their "why" to create fresh communications strategies that evoke emotion and inspire change. Since joining LMD in 2000, Karen has...Read more