Should You Hire a Marketing Agency?

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How to find the right marketing partnership

If you’re reading this, no doubt you’ve tried many of the marketing tools and channels that have come on the market over the past decade. 

It’s easier than ever to launch ads that will be viewed by thousands of potential customers and clients. It’s also easier than ever to spend hundreds of dollars on ads that don’t generate a cent for your business. 

It’s easier than ever to build your own website. But every site you build looks clunky and the functionality you hoped for doesn’t work as intended – causing more headaches than not. 

And it’s easier to reach customers for free through social media. You’ve started your Facebook page, and your Instagram page, and even have been Tweeting on a regular basis. But now there’s TikTok and Snapchat and Pinterest. And so posting a quick update to your loyal customers feels like a full-time job. 

So while, ultimately, the tools may have gotten easier and more accessible, marketing strategy and execution have only gotten more complicated as the number of channels and strategies has grown exponentially. 

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Marketing in the information age is overwhelming. 

So maybe you’re at the point where you’re tired of running your own Facebook ads that don’t convert (or you don’t even know if they’re working or not – i.e. you don’t have campaign tracking properly configured and cannot easily analyze the data), and maybe you’re tired of having your intern run your social media accounts with mixed results, and maybe you’re sitting on an old website that barely works. 

If all that sounds familiar, you may have also thought about hiring a marketing agency to help. 

But the thought of hiring an outside agency seems just as daunting as running your own marketing campaigns. 

Thankfully, it’s not as confusing as it seems. When hiring any outside contractor, you need to know a few key things. This guide is designed to help you navigate the sometimes daunting world of marketing agencies, freelancers, and consultants all so that you can grow your business. 

Let’s get started with the basics.

What is a marketing agency?

A marketing agency isn’t that different from a plumber or an electrician. An agency is a group of specialized problem solvers focused on a range of marketing services and solutions. 

And just like any other contractor, you might hire an agency to fix a specific problem–like getting your Google and Facebook Ads up and running or having a new website built or designing a new logo. 

Unlike a plumber, hiring a marketing agency can be a long-term partnership. An agency might take on whole aspects of your marketing, such as overseeing your monthly newsletters and social media or implementing an SEO strategy to grow your website traffic. And while they’re an outside contractor, they can quickly become an essential extension of your business. 

So hiring a marketing agency can be a big commitment. And just like you’d do the due diligence in hiring an employee, the same should be done in researching and picking an agency partner. 

Pro-Tip: It’s important to note that there are many types of marketing agencies out there. Some are full-service agencies that can do a bit of everything, and there are some agencies that specialize in a specific niche. That niche might be a marketing service area (i.e SEO, web design, or branding) or a specific industry. Here at TOMIS, we focus on Tour Operators as our industry niche

Let’s take a moment to break down all the different types of agencies you might hire for your marketing needs and goals. 


Different Types of Agencies

Full-Service: Full-service agencies handle it all. From logo design to SEO to web development, they’re a one-stop shop for all your marketing needs. Full-service agencies are a great choice if you need to tap into a wide array of expertise. While they’re often the most expensive option, they can harmonize all your marketing channels to create a cohesive strategy.

Creative: As their name suggests, creative agencies work on the creative and design side of marketing. Need a new logo? A creative agency will be the agency you’re looking for. They might not be able to point to hard numbers to demonstrate their worth, but they can help you with all the intangibles to help your brand stand out from the competition. 

Advertising: As the market has shifted, there are fewer pure advertising agencies than there were during the Mad Men days. But there are still plenty of large and talented companies in the market to help write and film that next TV commercial or buy space on that billboard you’ve been eyeing. These agencies are not only great at the creative, but they can handle all the details to get your ad seen by millions of people. 

Digital: Quickly becoming the dominant agency type in the industry, digital agencies have fully embraced the power of online platforms and channels. They’ll build you a responsive website, dial in your SEO, get all your Google and Facebook ads optimized, and help you target your audience with more precision than you thought possible. 

Public Relations: These agencies focus specifically on getting you media coverage. Want an outlet to cover your product launch? Then a PR agency would be a good fit. As the media landscape gets ever more complicated, PR agencies are essential to get attention from the right reporters and outlets that are speaking to your potential customers. 

Single-Service: These are the dialed-in experts. They pick their lane and stick to it. Need a small team that knows everything to know about custom Shopify templates? Or a Google Ads shop that specializes in ads for dentists? You’ll typically find that at a single-service shop. They’re a great choice if you have a specific challenge or are in a niche industry.   

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What services do marketing agencies offer?

While it’s important to understand all of the different types of agencies, the scope of services and standard strategies are central to finding the right fit. As you work through your marketing needs, it’s key to dial into what your problems are and what services might be needed to solve those problems. 

The list of potential marketing services is vast and ever-growing, but here is a list of some of the common services areas you might run into:

  • Advertising and media buying
  • Brand strategy and messaging
  • Copywriting
  • Data analysis and data processing
  • Email marketing
  • Facebook and social media advertising
  • Graphic design
  • Logo design and branding
  • PPC Ads
  • Public relations
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Web design and development

Before you go looking for an agency, understand what services you might need and which agencies offer that specific group of services. 

For example, if you need Google Ads, SEO, and email marketing help – then a full-service digital agency might be the right pick. But if you just need to put up a few billboards in your area – then a traditional advertising agency is likely the best fit. 

When should you hire a marketing agency?

You know that you have marketing problems that need solving and goals that you want to achieve. And you’ve begun to understand the service mix and type of agency you might need to hire. Now it just comes down to figuring out when to pull the trigger. 

While there’s no standard timeline to when you should hire a marketing agency, you can start by looking at unexplored marketing needs/initiatives for your business and whether or not you have enough internal bandwidth or expertise to perform them. 

It’s also worth noting if you have immediate needs. 

  • If your current website is broken and you don’t have the internal talent to manage it or build a new one, then hire a marketing agency
  • If your website consistently ranks on the second page of Google and reading about SEO makes your eyes burn, then hire a marketing agency
  • If you’re planning on launching a new product next quarter and you’re looking for a marketing strategy for that product launch, then hire a marketing agency

Marketing is a highly technical and creative process, and all businesses, big and small, should be finding ways to expand their marketing efforts in ways that grow their business. 

It can be tough to invest in immediate needs, let alone long-term marketing strategies that might take a few years to pay off. So, while it’s important to tackle immediate needs, it’s also important to view your marketing over the life of your business. 

Only you can determine when is the right time to invest in your marketing, but remember that good marketing takes time. And most companies regret bringing in help too late. 

Hiring In-House vs. Hiring a Marketing Agency

Now, in some instances, it might make sense to hire an employee to fill that marketing need. The scope of that commitment lies outside the boundaries of this post. 

But it’s worth clarifying some key differences between a marketing agency and a marketing employee. 

With a marketing agency, you’re paying to access a whole team of marketing professionals. A project that spans multiple disciplines might require 4-5 subject experts. At a marketing agency, your scope of work will include the needed time with the copywriting team, the design team, and the development team – rather than the need to hire each of those employees.

If you’re on a monthly retainer with a marketing agency, your bucket of hours every month extends to multiple departments and a range of professionals – access you’d only match by building out a massive internal team. 

That’s not to say that an internal person can’t compete on value. An internal person is first and foremost dedicated to your business. They’ll learn and understand your company and industry better than most agencies could. And they can be essential for overseeing the big-picture marketing strategy for the whole organization. In fact, a lot of agencies will only work with you if you have an internal marketing person. 

So often, this isn’t an either/or question, but rather how both can complement each other to help your business grow. 

Marketing Agency vs. Freelancer

While this article has focused on marketing agencies, it’s worth touching on freelancers. These are marketing professionals that run, essentially, a solo agency. They typically are focused on a single service area and will work with a range of clients – including as sub-contractors for agencies. 

Hiring a freelancer can be a practical alternative to hiring a marketing agency in certain scenarios. Freelancers can often be cheaper and more flexible than an agency. And might have the targeted expertise that can fill that single gap you need. 

The primary downside of freelancers is that they can’t offer the range of services that a multi-person agency could. If you need to hire multiple freelancers for a project, you might find yourself serving as the project manager and adding more work to your plate. 

It’s also more difficult to do proper background on freelancers. Agencies will often have reviews, should have a wide range of verifiable work samples, and will have processes in place for better quality control. With freelancers, you risk finding someone overselling their experience and not providing work up to professional standards. That being said, finding a great freelancer can provide a tremendous amount of value for a reasonable cost.


How to find the right marketing agency

So, you’ve looked at your business and marketing goals and made the decision to hire a marketing agency. Great! But now you have the immense challenge of actually finding the right agency. The good news is that there is a perfect match out there for you and your business. The bad news is that there are thousands of agencies. 

At this stage, it’s a good idea to revisit our section on the different types of agencies. Knowing what services you need and finding an agency that performs those services is a good place to start. 

But before you start typing “SEO agencies” into Google, there are a few other things to consider. 

For example, if you are in the tours and activities industry, your search for the right marketing agency may depend upon:

  • Where you are in your season currently.
  • What your website’s current state is and your goals for it
  • If you’d like to drive more direct bookings, versus relying on OTAs (online travel agents) to bring in bookings.
  • If you have the appropriate expertise to manage an effective digital marketing strategy across multiple channels and track performance results. 
  • If you understand the importance of SEO, a website that converts, and ads that compete across Google and social media — but have no idea how to implement the tacts across these marketing strategies.
  • And of course, what you’re willing to invest in managed marketing services and products to grow your tour business. 

Local Agencies vs Remote Agencies

For many people, it might not be important for the agency to be local. Here at TOMIS, we work with clients all over the world without issue. And for many types of services, like SEO or web design, the remote nature of marketing work makes it easy to hire the best fit for your needs. 

But for some services, like organic social media, it might require someone within your business or in your local area who can come on location to shoot content. It’d be hard to film a TV advertisement if your agency was in London and you were in San Diego. Proximity can still matter in our digitally connected world. 

A local agency might be able to give you a more personal connection than a long-distance agency. And supporting your local economy might be a factor in your decision-making process. 

But if your company is in a rural area, you might not have access to the talent and services you need. If that’s the case, be assured that working with a remote agency can still be a wonderful and fruitful partnership. 

Industry-Focused Agencies

While the service area is a good place to start your search, one additional factor in your decision process should be industry experience. 

Often, you’ll see agencies focus on B2B or B2C engagements based on their preferences and experience. But it can get even more specific than that. As mentioned, here at TOMIS, we focus on the tours and activities industry. But there are agencies that focus solely on tech products, consumer goods, or SEO for dog walkers. 

If you have specific marketing challenges directly related to your industry or niche, it’s worth searching out an agency with that expertise. 


Narrowing Your Search

So your search potentially went from “SEO agency” to “SEO agency for tours and activities”. That’s a good first step in narrowing down your search. But even in a small city, that might bring up dozens of results. 

The goal of this post is to simplify the process of finding an agency, but that unfortunately doesn’t mean the process will be simple. For most companies, hiring an agency will be an expensive process – and it’s worth doing the due diligence to find the right fit. This means looking at many agency websites, researching agency founders, and reaching out to set up meetings. 

Agency websites are a great tool when first evaluating a company. 

  • Does the agency’s website clearly outline their services and make it easy to start a conversation?
  • Does the agency showcase its talent and who you’d be working with?
  • Are their quality work samples on the site that showcase their expertise and experience?
  • Do they have an active blog? And do their blog posts speak well to your needs?
  • If you’re looking for design work, does the design and aesthetic of their website click with your own aesthetic?
  • If you’re looking for SEO talent, did their site rank highly in your search results?

A few other methods for finding an agency:

  • Many industry-specific agencies are part of industry groups and regularly attend industry conferences. For example, TOMIS is a proud partner and sponsor of Arival, the in-destination voice of tours, activities, attractions and experiences. This is a great opportunity to connect with new potential clients–and for clients to meet with a range of agencies catering to their industry.
  • Hiring an agency is not too different from hiring an employee. Referrals are a great way of finding the right talent. See if anyone in your professional network has any recommendations. 
  • Industry awards like the ADDYs (the premiere advertising industry award) have not only national winners but regional awards, helping you find the top agencies in your neck of the woods.  

While there are plenty of places to connect with and learn about agencies, no one has yet to create a dating app built around finding the perfect match between you and a potential marketing partner — maybe that will be TOMIS’s next product venture. 

The process can and should involve a lot of research, due diligence, and a bit of trusting your gut. 

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of potential partners, it’s time to start making contact and having conversations. 


Reaching out to a marketing agency

Maybe you’ve found the right fit. Or maybe you’ve found a few agencies that you like. Either way, it’s time to start some conversations. 

Pro-tip: The best place to start is by filling out a contact form to schedule a meeting and/or demo. Any agency website should an easy way to contact them (it’d be a red flag if it didn’t). Alternatively, the digitally-driven agencies might use ChatBots to help field initial questions. Here at TOMIS, we know a thing or two about ChatBots and Live Chat options.

When filling out a contact form, it’s always a good idea to provide plenty of details on your current marketing struggles and what you need help with. By giving your prospective agency more information, they can come to the eventual meeting more prepared. 

Bad example: “I’m looking for a new website and need to know how much that would cost.”

Good example: “I run a brewery tour business and I’m looking to build a website for it. I don’t think it will be a huge website, but I’d like to be able for people to book brewery tours on it. I’d also like some information on the website about our guides. Our budget isn’t huge, around $5,000. Can we set up a call to discuss this?”

After you’ve sent in your inquiry, be patient. It might take a few days for the agency to respond. Typically, when they do, they’ll want to set up an introductory meeting or call. 


Introductory Meeting 

These meetings can come in all different shapes and sizes based on the culture of the agency, the scope of the work, and the expected level of partnership. But usually, this first meeting will be a call with a member of their sales team. Regardless of who’s at this meeting, they’ll usually cover the same topics:

  • What’s your current marketing problem(s)? Or goal(s)?
  • What have you currently done to solve this problem?
  • What does your current marketing look like?
  • How can the marketing agency help solve this problem?
  • Do you have a budget for this work?
  • Do you have a timeline for this work?

Just like with the contact form, it’s important to go into the meeting having a clear understanding of what you’re looking for. Obviously, you won’t have all the answers – that’s why you’re going to a marketing agency in the first place – but being able to articulate your struggles and the resources on your end (time & budget) will help determine if it’s a good fit. 

And – just like you should expect questions from the agency – you should be prepared to ask questions as well. Many of the questions will be specific to the services and problems at hand, but here are a few good general questions to ask. 

  • Who will be my primary contact at the agency?
  • How often should I expect project updates? 
  • What is the timeline for the proposed project?
  • What role will I play in this project and how will I know what’s expected of me and my team?
  • How do you determine if a project is successful? What sort of metrics will we be tracking to determine success?

These are some great questions to get a conversation started. And as expected, it’s a good idea to start talking about the budget early and often. 

A quick note on budgets

Talking money can always be a tricky conversation, but it’s important to have that conversation early. Agencies often work within various budget ranges. 

For example, if you need a logo and go to the premier design agency in New York, they’re going to charge significantly more than a freelancer just out of college. Budgets are all about expectations, and that goes both ways. By letting them know your budget range, that’s a good way to determine if the partnership is a good fit. 

Being open about that early is only going to save you time – and likely, money. 

Also, be aware of the scope of a project. 

A website, for example, isn’t just a single task, it’s the combination of a lot of work across multiple teams from copywriting, design, marketing, and development. It’s not uncommon for the scope of a project to change throughout the project. Using the website as an example, if you want to add in an e-commerce feature that wasn’t part of the initial scope, expect additional costs to be added. 

Like with any agreement, know what you’re getting and what you’re not getting. Discussing these boundaries and limitations will ensure that you and your agency are on the same page. 


Sealing the deal

Let’s say that the introduction went well and it’s a good fit. There’s going to be a whole process around contracts, payments, scope-of-works, etc… All that information could fill up novels, let alone a blog post. And we’re not going to give out any notes on contract law – we’ll leave that to the lawyers. 

Just know that it’s best to hash out as many of the details early on as possible. Both sides might want to rush into a deal – it’s natural to want to be done with the whole courting process. As has been a common theme throughout this post, do your due diligence, do your research, and trust your instincts.


Working with a Marketing Agency

Assuming all that went well, and you’ve signed a contract or a scope-of-work agreement, now you’re ready to get started on your project. 

But this post isn’t about the detailed pieces of working with a marketing agency. Every project is unique and complicated and could play out differently. 

Instead, this post is about determining if you should work with a marketing agency and about finding the right fit. And just like with any partnership, it sometimes takes some time to determine if it’s going to be successful.

Some of that success might be personal, it might be process driven, and it might just come down to the quality of the work. 


Who you’ll be working with

Note that all agencies are structured differently. But these are some common roles you might encounter. 

Sales team: Often a member of the sales team will be your first point of contact with an agency. They might be someone you meet at an industry conference or they reply to your contact form submission. They’ll talk you through the agency’s services, costs, and work for pulling together a proposal for work. 

Account/Marketing manager: These team members will be your day-to-day contact. Expect a handoff meeting early in the engagement between you, the sales team, and the account team. From there, the account manager will work with you on putting together a project plan, keep you updated on the schedule and deliverables, and answer any questions you might have about the work/process.

Project/Traffic manager: For many large agencies, these people are the team members keeping the whole ship running smoothly. They make sure that tasks and deliverables are given to the right people and that everything is completed on schedule. For many smaller agencies, the account/marketing manager will play this role. 

Specialists and creatives: These people are behind-the-scenes workers. They might pop up in a meeting here or there, but mostly they’re head down at their desk getting the work done. They’re the ones writing content marketing posts, designing billboards, or planning out the SEO strategy for the fall. 

Creative directors and department heads: For large and complicated projects, they might be overseen by a creative director or a department head. For example, an advertising campaign that stretches across multiple channels (TV ads, billboards, email, etc…) a creative director would oversee the whole creative process to ensure cohesion across teams. 

CEO and owners: At the very top are the business owners. Each business owner will handle their part of the process differently. They might be involved in the sales process or they might function in a creative or technical director role. 

Again, these roles are not universal and can change drastically based on the type and size of an agency. 


Knowing your responsibility

At the top, we mentioned that marketing agencies function like electricians and plumber, or any outsider contractor. But it’s important to know one key difference–your role in the process. It’s not a drop-it-off-and-forget-it engagement. Marketing is intrinsically tied to nearly every part of your business. And while it might be tempting to think you can hire a marketing agency to take that work off your plate, you should expect to spend time working with your agency. 

Ultimately, you and your team are the experts for your own business. And one of the keys to a successful partnership is finding the middle ground between your business insight and the marketing expertise of your partner agency.

You’ll also be expected to review and provide feedback on different deliverables. That might be a blog post or a homepage design. You’re not expected to be the expert here, but instead, you’re meant to review how these items fit your business and company brand. It’s important to provide succinct feedback in a timely manner. 

As one of the primary stakeholders, your role will often be a choke point in any project. Make sure that you’re not holding up the project. 


Agency red flags 

As you’re working through the getting-to-know-you phase of your engagement, it’s good to keep an eye out for various red flags. These can be subjective, but here are a few things we recommend keeping an eye out for when working with an agency. 


Data and Transparency

With most marketing initiatives, data is going to play a significant role in determining the project’s success. Additionally, many marketing agencies will assist clients with ongoing analytics related to their website traffic and advertising performance. 

It’s common for agencies to supply regular data and analytics reports. This might be monthly or quarterly, and they’ll typically show the data in a way that is more digestible than crawling through Google Analytics or Meta’s Ad Manager. 

While it’s great to see the numbers always going up, sometimes it can be a good sign when the numbers go down. Every business goes through ups and downs, maybe it’s the market or maybe it’s a seasonal downturn. But if your agency is always delivering you good news, always showing you the numbers rising – it might be a sign that they’re not being transparent about the data. 

Part of building a relationship is maintaining honest communication. If an agency is cherry-picking data, that’s a red flag.

But how do you know whether the agency is cherry-picking data or just delivering on stellar results month after month? Many modern tools allow agencies to create live dashboards that are directly connected to the data. Agencies should also be able to help you view the live data connected to your analytics accounts. 

At the end of the day, you should own the data – your agency partner is just helping communicate that data to you. 

Pro-tip: It’s a green light when the agency you’re working with insists upon setting up proper tracking and ensuring you know what was set up. At TOMIS, we start every service retainer off by configuring the Digital Foundation. This foundation is vital in ensuring advanced marketing and sales reports are properly communicating campaign performance and ultimately allowing the data to speak for itself in where investment is focused.


Clear Deliverables & Timelines 

Partnerships often come down to communication. As you begin working with an agency, are they communicating regularly? Do you understand the next steps of a project and what your role in the project is? On the flip side, are you reaching out with questions and ensuring the agency has all the information they need for the project to be successful?

It’s not uncommon for communication to take a few months to get in the right rhythm, especially for larger projects or ongoing engagements. Either way, it’s still a good idea to set up regular check-ins. These could be weekly email updates, bi-weekly calls, or quarterly reports.

This communication strategy should be driven by the agency. If they’re overly vague, non-committal, or unresponsive, it’s a sign that they might not be a good fit.  

Timelines are also important to know when working through projects. It’s important to know when to expect deliverables and when the overall project might be completed. Do know that timelines are estimates. Marketing projects are complicated and multi-faceted. It’s not uncommon for timelines to be ambitious. And we’ll be honest, it’s not uncommon for clients to be the cause of many delays. 

That being said, it’s important for the agencies to communicate when delays happen, what an updated timeline is, and how your role in the project could affect the overall project schedule. 


Conclusion: Growing a long-term partnership

We could make a long-winded analogy about how a partnership with a marketing agency is a lot like a marriage. But just like every marriage is different, every agency partnership is different. And at the end of the day, it’s about trust and open communication between both sides. Since these partnerships are financial transactions, it’s important to regularly evaluate the partnership. 

And sometimes it’s worth going back to the basics. We’d recommend coming back to this article. The start of every new project is a new opportunity to review the relationship. Is this agency still the right fit for your business and goals? Are both sides putting in the work to ensure a project’s success?

Hopefully, these tips will help you find the right fit for your marketing needs. It’s a challenging landscape out there in the marketing world. But with the right partner, the potential for growth is nearly limitless. 

If you happen to be a tour operator looking for a marketing team, we happen to know a thing or two about that. Reach out, we’d love to talk!

A Full-Service Agency for Tour Operators

Ready to Grow Your Tourism Business?

TOMIS specializes in an integrated digital marketing approach. Leveraging targeted SEO tactics, tailored Google Ads campaigns, optimized landing pages for conversion, and supporting channel strategies to move a user through their journey of purchase in the tours and activities industry.

View Marketing Services
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