The success of any business, large or small, depends on the quality of its marketing programs.  Companies are willing to invest in all types of “advertising gurus,” to differentiate themselves. They want to stand out among the competition and bring in more ideal customers.  But when it’s time to hire these people, business owners and managers can get lost.  It’s not hard to find an advertising agency, developer or content creator. But how do you find the right person for the job?

Digital marketing agencies and advertising agencies are similar yet different.

Digital marketing agencies and traditional advertising agencies have some things in common. For example, all marketing programs have four main components: research, creative, distribution and reporting. Marketing research gives insight into how consumers think. This insight guides the creative process to develop engaging advertising. The advertising is then placed in front of the consumers through marketing channels. After an advertising campaign completes its run, reporting numbers are gathered. Traditional advertising agencies differ from their digital counterparts in the distribution and reporting phases. Advertising agencies in the past distributed on print, radio, television and billboards. Reporting was vague at best. Today people get their information from digital devices like smart phones, tablets and computers. This means getting in front of people requires the skills of digital marketing professionals. TV series like “Mad Men” glorify the old school ad agencies. But these agencies don’t exist in this form today. The way consumers interact with information has changed and marketing has adapted. The DVR cut into TV advertising so marketers brought ads to YouTube. Printed newspaper and magazine readership is way down. The digital marketing agency is the present and future of reaching consumers.

A chart showing the decline in newspaper subscriptions as a result of a user shift to digital media.

A chart showing the decline in newspaper subscriptions as a result of a user shift to digital media. Source:

Here’s the difference between consultants and agencies.

Marketing consultants and agencies are different. Here’s what you need to know when making a decision to hire one or the other.

What marketing consultants do and how much they cost.

Marketing consultants focus on research, strategy and planning. It’s not a guarantee they’ll fulfill a marketing plan after putting one together. This makes pairing a marketing consultant with an inhouse team effective. Marketing consultants usually charge an hourly fee for their services. Most consultants specialize in a niche of marketing. Consultants in specialty niches can command higher rates than general marketing consultants. For example, some local search consultants are $300+ / hour. That said, you want to avoid inexpensive consultants. An untested consultant with little experience can kill your business.

Digital agencies specialize in reaching consumers through the Internet.

A digital marketing agency helps clients reach consumers through the Internet. This may include search, mobile, social media advertising and dozens more tactics. The old way was thinking of digital marketing as a component of a larger marketing plan. Now the common practice of digital agencies is to use an integrated marketing strategy. This means using a combination of digital tactics and real world customer experiences combined.

Digital agencies and their pricing model.

Digital marketing agencies research customers, create ads, distribute and report ads through the Internet. They have talent capable of tackling everything from mobile apps to YouTube ads. Their pricing varies. Most often they’re paid monthly as a percentage of advertising spend for advertising. But its not uncommon to have per-project rates negotiated.

Interactive agencies, creative agencies and how they’re different from the others.

Interactive and creative agencies focus heavily on customer experience research and design. Interactive agencies create digital experiences. They’re more likely to create touchscreen content, games and apps. Experiences that have direct one-to-one connections with the user. Creative agencies may perform branding, logo design and collateral creation. They may or may not fulfill digital work. The above aside, all agencies will often fulfill any work they can get. This makes naming conventions slightly outdated. Always confirm scope of work when working with agencies. This sets the foundation for a smooth work relationship.

All marketing professionals start with strategy.

A marketing strategy is created before any work begins. Almost everyday there’s a new digital channel available to place advertising on. An inexperienced agency without a strategy will be ineffective and spread itself thin. A well prepared digital agency knows which channels to focus on and where to spend money.

New marketing channels fuel the growth of digital agencies.

Traditional outlets like print, television, and radio have changed formats and platforms. Newspapers and magazines have mobile apps. Publishers have started splitting digital from print. Newspapers have shifted revenue to focus on growing digital advertising opportunities. The lines between digital and physical media are blurring. Consumers no longer read, watch TV or listen to music independent of the Internet. Smartphones and tablets give consumers ways to interact with their media while experiencing it. For example, magazines released in print are almost always available in digital. We’re already in the next phase of digital marketing: wearable technology. Everyday items like watches and thermostats connect to the Internet.  Digital marketing companies will be the ones driving advertising on these platforms.

Choosing the right digital agency.

There are at least 600 digital agencies in Chicago alone. Choosing the right agency can be overwhelming. Here’s what to look for when finding a marketing partner.

The best digital agencies listen to the customers and do what’s best for them.

They don’t just do what gets them paid. They focus on generating results. This doesn’t mean they’re pushovers. But they have a genuine interest in the client’s business success.

Top agencies educate themselves on new marketing technology.

Technoolgy that drives marketing changes every single day.  And, with it, new opportunities to reach customers in more effective ways arise. Consider running campaigns on Facebook. The platform changes almost monthly. An agency must regularly adjust its clients’ Facebook campaigns to stay relevant and visible.

A sales person will not be doing the work.

Many agencies get by with just minimal digital knowledge. This becomes clear months into a campaign after getting zero results.  Hiring an agency is not all that unlike hiring an individual assistant or employee. A slick resume is nice. But there has to be history of work.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of goals before approaching agencies.

The company must be able to present their vision to the agency.  Then, the company has to make certain that the agency is going to be able to fulfill that vision. The perfect digital agency is a combination of tech expert and marketing strategist. Appealing to consumers, establishing the brand’s voice, expanding awareness and growing sales. All using technology relevant to the client’s customers.

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