Agency Advice: 5 Signs of a Strong Digital Media Partner

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Evaluating a digital media partner is not an easy task. Here are 5 good signs companies should look for when narrowing their selection.

There’s no doubting the complex nature of choosing a new digital media partner, whether your organization has previous experience working with agencies or if it’s their first engagement. Many factors in the decision-making process are data-centric and sometimes simple to measure. 

Things like average client growth year-over-year, budget under management and number of employees are typically part of the algorithm. But do these metrics paint a complete picture of the digital media partner your business needs? 

Let’s get an uncomfortable truth out of the way:

Comparing agencies is difficult because not all business metrics are weighed the same.

For example, some firms include spend from project-based or short-term clients when reporting budget under management. In contrast, others may only tally recurring engagements and spend associated with those accounts. 

Even if a clear definition exists, how can you compare vaguely similar agencies?

That’s when organizations evaluate the soft metrics that are often hard to quantify alongside their prior results and capabilities. The following list highlights some “x factor”  qualities that indicate a strong digital media team.

Top Signs of a Strong Media Partner 

1. Referrals are a top prospect & client source

No matter the evolutions in business, a mainstay in the digital marketing industry is the weight a trusted referral can make in narrowing prospects. More agencies could use this tidbit as a unique differentiator. 

If an agency has contributed so highly to client success that clients plant new business seeds on the agency’s behalf, you can surely bet that team is delivering results. People work with people who get the job done and do it well. 

When an agency points to a handful of existing clients directly referred to them or cases where a former customer contact went to a new role and brought the agency onto their new team, those are the kinds of stories you want to hear. 

Rough patches are likely with every client-agency relationship. However, if results are so top-notch that clients become brand ambassadors, communication was strong enough to gain trust so the agency could drive results. It also shows that internal champions are so confident in an agency’s ability that they proudly refer them even when starting a  position at a new company. 

Client referrals have tremendous clout.

2. Average client tenure exceeds 2-3 years

You’ve verified that the team you’re looking at knocks it out of the park for returning customers, but what about how long they stick around? 

While this signal is more data-centric, it’s still important to note. 

Perhaps you’ve already considered the ideal scenario you’re looking for when it comes to the longevity of existing or prior client relationships under your new prospective partner. But before you tag an answer, consider how long you’re investing in searching for a new agency. Reasonably, you would prefer not to have a time-intensive process every 1-2 years (unless a significant performance situation requires it, of course). 

You should feel more than comfortable asking your potential new team how long they keep clients around because it points to their ability to hit goals and maintain consistency over time.

Look for clients who’ve been with an agency for at least 4-5 years, and ask what’s kept them content to stay. Their feedback likely will be beyond the agency’s results and telling of their collaboration techniques, consistency and personalities.

3. The entire team participates in talent recruitment

Every agency has a department focused on filling open positions and helping potential candidates determine which agency is right for them. You would expect to see the company’s social media profiles sharing those available roles and maybe even some employee shares here and there. 

It would be best to look for more of a full-press approach coming from the entire agency crew and an authentic one. This team involvement proves employees like working for that organization.

May there be a reward or bonus if they suss out some new talent? Sure! But at its core, a strong agency needs top talent, and they’re taking time to help spread the word about what makes Agency XYZ the best one to work for. 

Those are vibes you can trust and quickly evaluate through some LinkedIn research of a company and their employees’ LinkedIn posts. A strong partner will also share their own clients’ open roles. Both parties in an agency-client engagement need a complete set of players to achieve the right goals, so team lifting from an agency in this way is rare.  

Last but not least, happy team members tend to stick around, too. If you observe role sharing among an agency’s senior employees, this is a leading indicator of consistency in client teams, leading to our prior point on average client tenure. 

Consistency doesn’t typically beget dismissal.

4. They support a greater good

Digital marketing can be used for altruistic means, but we’re driving leads and revenue at the end of the day, right? Wrong. That’s only part of the story when a strong digital team is on the case.

You want to look for some indications that the team (or teams) you’re considering think outside themselves and bolster causes that mean more to them than clicks and conversions. Whether it’s dedicating a percentage of their revenue to local organizations or providing pro bono services to non-profits in need of help to spread the word, that’s the partner for you. And it’s easy to vet.

Take a look at the agency’s LinkedIn profile or News section of their website and see what they’re up to outside the typical workday or content shares. You may even find yourself more drawn to one team over the others with this consideration in mind, especially if all the numbers and success metrics feel in step as you narrow down the selection.

5. Their solution isn’t one size fits all

This is a little advice coming from a salesperson, so I hope you’ll take it more seriously. If the words “we work with clients of all shapes and sizes” come out during a discovery call in this process, you have a very distinct decision to make. 

Either dig into that statement further or run. Most agencies have a target client profile, and there will be some outliers in their rosters. Generally speaking, there will be minimums (and maybe even maximums) to be considered with a scope of work. 

No agency can effectively service an account that is just getting started in paid digital through the spectrum of accounts that spend millions. Specific tech is required to run those larger accounts to the maximum effectiveness, and those tools don’t work with smaller accounts that aren’t pulling in that same data volume. Building client teams and setting ‘boundaries’ for levels of service internally doesn’t usually mean great things for client or employee turnover, honestly. 

Seek out a team that tells you where they can (and do) draw lines in the sand for when it’s a good fit vs. when they tell a client it may not be in the best interest to go down an engagement path together. 

Even better, if that path is not the best one, look for an agency that will help introduce the client to a firm or two that might be better suited for their needs. Now, we’ve circled back to how a referral network sets the tone for stability and what it could indicate for you as you look at potential media partners.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, I give the same advice to finding a solid agency partner that I give to peers considering a new career opportunity. Before you start the process, determine your non-negotiable factors and make sure you find a few good ways to confirm your next path aligns throughout discussions. 

There is no time to question your instincts or let someone else’s objectives halt your original purpose. A strong partnership consists of more than just results, so your search needs to verify more than case studies alone. 

Try looking for some of these softer but demonstrative characteristics, and you’re sure to find a solid digital media partner for years to come. 

What other less obvious factors do you look for? Please share your ideas with us, and we can all ensure more effective and efficient agency searches together!

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