Selecting the Right Marketing Partner

In today’s fast-paced start-up environment, marketing has been put in the spotlight. Start-ups have poured money into advertising and marketing programs with a reasonable degree of success. The buzzwords of the early ’90s words like branding and creative have become way too in vogue again.

But in the frenzy that is dot-com marketing, companies have been too hasty in selecting marketing partners. Advertising firms have no doubt enjoyed the ride, but unfortunately relationships, bottom lines, and ultimately, success have been left hanging in the balance.

The process of selecting the right marketing partner has been left for the last nano-second. Dot-coms with $1-20 million to spend have selected ad firms on a meeting and a handshake.

That’s great if you’re an ad agency looking for a quick buck. But if you’re the start-up, you need to slow down and ask the questions that need to be answered before you go off and write a press release praising the quality of your new Madison Avenue powerhouse.

More importantly, if you actually take the time to ask the right questions, you’ll seem more responsible and grown-up. Ad agencies are no longer interested in “Hello, my name is Bob.com. Will you be my marketing partner?”

They’re interested in a proper relationship where expectations and time are managed so no one is left holding the dot-com bag.

Below are some questions to ask a prospective marketing partner:

  1. What experience do you have working with embryonic companies?

  2. Do you have people in the agency who have experience in my category?
  3. Are you dedicated to strategic planning, and what role will research play in my business?
  4. What are your capabilities in interactive and relationship marketing?
  5. Will you provide a detailed media picture of my category and business?
  6. Can you help me choose the right media mix, while being media natural?
  7. Who will be the day-to-day contact?
  8. Where will the buck stop?
  9. If I freak out at 3:00 a.m., whom do I call?
  10. Will you staff my business with top creative talent or will you relegate me down to the teams playing too much Quake?
  11. What compensation structures do you set up with start-ups?
  12. Are you interested in my business long-term? Why?
  13. What recent work has your agency produced that you are especially proud of?
  14. Will you provide below-the-line marketing advice, or should I call someone else?
  15. What case histories can you show me regarding building a successful brand?
  16. How do you measure the effectiveness of your work?

If the ad agency can answer the tough questions and has the experience you’re looking for, expect to pay for it. The typical dot-com account in a top-ten advertising agency will net the firm $1-5 million in revenue. But understand: That money will go a long way toward ensuring your overall success. If you’ve done a good job selecting the right agency partner, it’s an investment your VCs will approve.

Just as you need to look smart in VC meetings, you need to be equally as smart in agency meetings. The smarter you act, the more likely it is you’ll get top talent working on your business.

If you’re one of the companies spending 50+ percent of your total budget on marketing, you should certainly take the time to select the right partner. It is likely to be one of the most important decisions you will make. If done right, it can lead to what you’ve always dreamed of: a brand.

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