How to Cherry Pick Digital Agencies for Pitches

by Chelsea Blacker on 15/11/2011

I am consistently impressed with how many people work in digital and have very little clue as to what’s going on.  Call me a digital snob, but when I hear stories about SEO managers who couldn’t tell you what effect Panda had on their client sites, or search directors that believe pagerank is a significant factor (in 2011!), I am shocked.

While I could pretend it’s concerning for the wellfare of the industry, it actually just warms my heart to know I may be a bit above par.  Below are a few tips on how to start off the pitch process on the right foot, by inviting real agencies who know what they’re doing, and don’t just have good looking sales people.

Identify Authentic Digital Marketing Agencies to Invite to a Retail Pitch

A retailer did ask me this question recently, as they are starting up the pitch process and struggling to work out who to invite.

Check out the major sources.  These include NMA Search agencies guide; be careful though, because some of these agencies include PPC spend as turnover which can inflate figures massively.  Another great source is eConsultancy’s Directory of Members.

Industry specialists.  My personal humble opinion is that this is bull shi*t.  You don’t need to hire an agency which already deals in your space.  SEO carries the same principles wether you’re selling luxury bathtubs, cat food, or flights.  If anything, looking at agencies with a clear grasp on a diverse range of industries means they’ll be bringing creative ideas from different spaces to the table.  A good friend of mine on an in-house team specifically looks to hire agencies to consult  who do not work in his sector, so as to benefit from the widest range of ideas.  mclaren_f1 identify agencies pitch digital marketing

All of this said, if you’re dead set on tracking down competitors agencies simply google “competitor name + seo/ppc/social media” and chances are their agency may have advertised the partnership with a press release or case study.

Ignore the ad space.  Honda may spend billions on advertising each year, but I still know I’d like a McLaren F1 instead.  Some of the best agencies don’t bother with giant spreads in marketing magazines, or any other media buying medium.  This is because their work is likely to speak for itself, so check out their websites for case studies and client feedback.

Out and About.  Look at some of the top directors and check out what events they have recently spoken.  Check out this calendar of digital marketing events to understand which are legit events.  The agency’s websites will probably advertise it too.  If you can’t find anything on the site, this is definitely a good question to initially ask them.  Personally, if an agency is not interacting with the rest of the digital community, by speaking at events, attending events, or sponsoring events, I don’t think it reflects well on them as part of the larger digital community.  If their justification is “we’re just so busy with our own work” or “we’ve got enough impressive clients to know everything within our own teams” they’re lying.

Winners.  What awards have they they won lately? This will surely be splashed all over the website. Even if the didn’t win, being shortlisted proves that an agency is interacting with the wider community.

Social Reach.  Are they interactive on social media platforms?  Checking out these platforms will also give you a better sense of what the agency’s tone is and how popular they are (follwer count, facebook friends).  Does social reach reflect SEO/PPC results for clients?  No.  Is it slightly fickle? Perhaps.  But again, like with Out and About, it’s a reflection on how with it an agency is.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chee Ho Wan November 15, 2011 at 14:49

Nice post Chelsea,

I tend to like agencies that have strong data capabilities. Either they have been tools themselves or show aptitude in pitches to use a data driven approach.


Chelsea Blacker November 15, 2011 at 16:39

Data driven approach – I like that a lot Chee. But I also find that enveloping a potential client in data and figures can be quite overwhelming for them (and me!). Plus, from an agency perspective it’s more likely a figure will be wrong and lead to emberrasment if you’re throwing TONS of data out there. Still agree though, data is a great way to judge.

Regarding building their own tools, this is impressive. But consider how many potential clients don’t even understand that the tools may just be white labeled? I met one in-house marketer who described this AMAZING tool their agency had, and it turned out to be a white labeled Ravens Tool!


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