Selecting a Marketing Communications Firm: The SMART Evaluation Framework

By Stacey Piper and Denise Willard

Marketing communications firms come in many shapes and sizes. Some are full-service, while others specialize in niche skillsets. Some work only on projects, while others require a minimum monthly retainer. And some work collaboratively with in-house resources, while others must manage all aspects of a project start to finish. With all these options (and many more), how do you select the perfect marketing communications firm to match your business needs?

Our Success Criteria Rolled into a Framework

At Piper Strategies we have decades of combined marketing experience and have participated on both sides of the marketing agency equation—as customer and marketing services provider. With this experience, we have identified the key attributes of marketing firms that make the best partners and have rolled this knowledge into our SMART Evaluation Framework. Using this tool, business leaders can narrow down their choices to select the one standout firm with the right strategic expertise to develop the customer-facing elements of your brand and the technical expertise to drive your online presence.

The SMART Evaluation Framework

The following five criteria are consistent differentiators between marketing firms that made the cut and those left behind in our previous customer roles.

  1. Strategic Thinkers. It is critical to select a marketing partner who solves for today and advises for tomorrow, with an eye toward the larger marketing ecosystem and how best to meet your desired outcomes. Many marketing firms recommend point solutions that may solve a niche problem, but do not factor in your broader marketing goals. If you want a brand that is here for the long run and consistently delivers on its promise, you need a partner who can think beyond mere tactics. The agency you choose must have seasoned strategists in-house who have been in the trenches and fully understand the interrelationships inherent in the marketing ecosystem. This ensures you end up with a strategic roadmap that is not only doable and within your budget, but helps you achieve your most pressing business goals in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

  2. Marketing Technology Pros. Gone are the days of marketing as “fluff and stuff.” Today’s marketing demands big technical chops—at the front end, back end, and everywhere in between. Your agency of choice should have a dependable team of marketers equipped with hands-on technical expertise across the marketing sphere: front-end customer journey mapping, website UX/UI, content and search engine optimization, back-end programming, marketing automation. Your marketing communications agency should be able to handle your technical requirements no matter how big or small.

  3. Artistic & Creative Geniuses. Given how bombarded we are these days with information, brands have three seconds or less to capture someone’s attention and must repeat their message seven or more times before a prospect will act. There is no better way to attract a person’s attention and bolster your brand than with clever creative and notable user experiences. The marketing partner you choose must have a team of big thinkers who know how to connect with your customers at every turn. With big ideas and a solid understanding of the user experience, your marketing communications firm of choice must wow your prospects and clients, keeping you top of mind with prospects.

  4. Robust Data-Driven Campaigns. While having big ideas, amazing creative, and the technical chops to bring it all to life is critically important, so is maximizing every dollar you spend in the era of doing more with less. That is why choosing a communications partner who uses data to help drive marketing decisions is on our “must have” list. Your marketing partner should have the analytics prowess to dig deep into metrics across your marketing ecosystem and make smarter, more effective campaign recommendations to drive better outcomes for your business.

  5. Team of Partners. At the end of the day, no matter how strategic, creative, or technical a marketing communications firm is, the most important criterion of all is how they act as people.
  • Do they treat you and your team like a transaction, or do they collaborate with you as a true team player?
  • Are they flexible in scaling up or down to meet your needs, or are they rigid and unyielding?
  • Do they easily work with your in-house team, or do they require that they manage everything soup to nuts?

Choosing a marketing communications firm is one of the most important decisions your business will make. However, do not fret. You will know you have met the right partner when the team flexes to meet YOUR business needs and looks for ways to maximize YOUR ROI versus the other way around.

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Thinking of engaging a marketing communications firm? Contact me for a brand and strategy consultation with your leadership team.

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