"Survivor": It's been the word of the day in more ways than one in this age of reduced budgets and staffing cuts. Times being what they are, you may be looking to outside resources to fill the gaps within your organization. Especially when it comes to handling email campaigns.
Perhaps you work for or run a very large company, and your needs require a partner "arm" -- a full-service agency with a team of 10 or more people completely dedicated to your email marketing efforts, an agency that will keep your campaign development chugging along with the latest and greatest in deployment technology, opt-in-list plans, creative savvy, and more.
Or maybe your marketing goals aren't that large-scale and/or you can still handle a lot of your campaign work internally. All you really need is the help of a smaller shop or individual that focuses on one or two of these disciplines -- a resource with a few good ideas and a couple of spare hours here and there.
Or your company is one of the many out there that still have not completely embraced email as a marketing tool. And this somewhat precarious time may be creating a demand from the powers that be to explore it as such. After all, they've read/heard/seen that email can, if executed properly, be cost-effective and yield top response. Therefore, what you may need here is someone to train your organization on the intricacies and the details of the medium -- and to help you help yourself.
Or perhaps you need a hybrid of all the above.
How do you find the best individual or agency to fit the bill for your unique needs? First, beware of agencies or consultants that claim they can do it all -- meaning online to offline marketing and advertising... big-picture strategies to nitty-gritty technological setups... English to Chinese... and everything in between. They may want to do it all. They may have the number of warm bodies needed to do it all. But they may not have the ability (read: talent and expertise) to do it all well.
That's not to say that some of the bigger shops -- such as the large-scale Fortune 500-serving traditional advertising agencies -- can't be effective. They sure can. In fact, one of the big advantages to using a traditional agency is having access to a variety of different resources, both online and offline. One of the disadvantages, however, is that you may end up with junior-level people working on your account -- junior-level people with tons of enthusiasm yet little experience in the email marketing arena.
Smaller, more specialized agencies, on the other hand, tend to have more experienced senior-level people working on day-to-day projects. That's because these organizations tend to be small and/or tend to hire freelance experts themselves. The downside is that they may not have enough time or people to handle very large or complex projects.
So besides size and general experience, what needs to be on your "to do" list when shopping for outsourcers in the email marketing space? Here are some items to pencil in.
Meet the players. Make sure and meet everyone who will be involved on both a day-to-day and big-picture basis. Assess the levels of expertise of all individuals involved. How long have they been working on email-related projects and campaigns? Do they actually have an active working knowledge of the medium, or is it based more on principles gleaned from other sources, such as industry research reports, published case studies, previous offline direct marketing experience, etc.?
Explore all facets of their offerings. Ask to see samples. Inquire about any awards they have won or been nominated for. Does their expertise truly cover the ground that you need it to cover? Or are they really print-advertising specialists claiming to have an expertise in email?
Ask for results. Gather those testimonials. Ask for references, and call those clients who have offered up their names and time. Dig deeply, asking questions that could lead these people to "fess up" on past sticky issues along with any and all related details. No matter what you hear, just remember there are always problems, whether they're large or small. How an agency handles these glitches, however, can speak volumes... THAT is the kind of stuff you need to know.
Common sense, all of it, yet in this tough time when budgets are tight and companies -- including agencies -- are failing left and right, it's in your best interest to be choosy. It'll certainly save you from tons of headaches down the road... and will hopefully keep that campaign machine humming.
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Kim MacPherson is President and Founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency specializing in promotional copywriting, HTML design, planning, and deployment/tracking solutions. Kim is also the author of "Permission-Based E-mail Marketing That Works!"