How to Choose a Marketing and PR "Partner" in 2009. Things Have Changed. Ten Things to Consider.

Charles Bedard, a very smart guy with one of the better marketing brains I know, wrote an outstanding blog titled "Question: Evaluating & Selecting Your Marketing Service Provider".

In his post, Charles suggests that a quality marketing services provider that acts as an extension of your management and sales team can help you achieve any or all of the following (edited):

a) create a consistent and predictable sales pipeline
b) reduce your customer acquisition costs on a per unit basis
c) increase your brand equities
d) create credibility for your organization and product or services in the marketplace (thought-leadership which reduces sales cycle time and increases average sales price).
e) help define your business strategy

Charles also discussed how to determine the best marketing services partner. Combining some of Charles' points with some from my own experience, I came up with the following checklist you can use when evaluating marketing services providers in 2009 (notice how I didn't say "PR"). Read on.....
  1. Vendor Credibility and Stability: Google the company and key principals. Talk to references. How long have they been around? How many customers? Are they financially stable? Do you trust them?
  2. Target Audience Fit: Do they know your industry? How many of your competitors and substitutes have they worked with? If none, do you really want to be their guinea pig?
  3. Subject Matter Expertise: Are the services they provide part of their core expertise? And what don't they do well? At HRmarketer, we are very clear about what we can do and what we aren't very good at. We know our circle of competence and we always operate within it. If we don't do something great, we won't hesitate to refer a prospect to a competitor if we believe it's a better fit.
  4. Methodology: What is the best practice process the marketing firm will follow to achieve the results you want? Ask for details. This should be summarized on one page with client success stories.
  5. ROI, Analytics and Reporting: What specific activities will be delivered each week or each month? What are the key milestones and time lines? What monthly reports and metrics will you receive to document this work and measure it's success? A good vendor will help you work through these questions and establish easy to measure metrics (yes, all marketing and PR activities can be measured). If you don't clearly specify which measurements equal success then the relationship will fail.
  6. Cobbler's Shoes: You've heard the story about how the cobbler's own shoes are always in need of repair. This does not work in marketing. You wouldn't take financial advice from someone in bankruptcy and you shouldn't take SEO advice from a company with lousy search engine rankings. Does the marketing services firm practice what they deliver? Does the vendor distribute search-optimized press releases, use social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, develop content, blog, podcast, exhibit, etc. Make sure the vendor's own house is in order before you consider bringing them into your home.
  7. Empathy & Shared Values: I'm not suggesting you hold hands with the vendor and sing Kumbaya, but seriously, you want a vendor who is flexible and understanding. Especially in these economic times. Will they work with you to meet your budget constraints? Are they flexible? Have they taken the time to really understand your company and your business challenges? And does the vendor share the same business values as you? We've built our business brick-by-brick and prefer to work with like-minded firms. We don't believe in quick fixes, we're not interested in getting CEOs up in lights, or using PR as a precursor to "flip" a business. Not that these are bad things but it's just not what we do. It's important for companies to know this up-front so there are no false expectations.
  8. Account Management: Who will be working on your account? Does the firm delegate any of the work to junior staff? Is any work given to contractors or outside firms? How involved are the principals from day-to-day? What kind of experience do the principals have? Ask for everyone's bios and ask if you can interview each member of your account management team prior to signing on the dotted line. Is the vendor hesitates, this is a red flag.
  9. Partners: You want integration. And you want solutions to fit. Does your marketing firm have knowledge and working experience with all the marketing tools needed to execute your deliverables? This may include CRMs, email software, web site analytics, PPC management, SEO tools, etc. Ask the vendor what tools they have working knowledge of and the ones they will be using on your account - and if they integrate with your existing infrastructure. A good marketing partner should also be able to give you a referral to a reputable provider for most every marketing need you have.
  10. Web 2.0 knowledge: Things have changed. If your marketing or PR firm is not an expert on using social media, social networking and other Web 2.0 tools in the delivery of marketing and PR, find a new agency (this is why the traditional PR agency will die in the next few year). Likewise, if you are not using these tools as a part of your company's marketing and PR, start. What are some of these tools?
Good luck.