Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to shop for a social media marketing & PR agency

If you asked a store owner who has the best store, what do you think they’re going to say?

That’s right. “My store!” Even if their store has no goods, no customers and no working plumbing.

But while most people would understand that it would be absurd to rely on such a testimonial, this is exactly what many businesses looking for a digital marketing and PR service do. Confronted by many choices, they look up agencies or professionals and try to be a client. It's also what job seekers tend to do. They fall for the claims without thinking them over.

I know this because as soon as some businesses find out that I know about marketing communications and social media work they ask me if I can run a campaign for the them. All. The. Time. I actually have to turn away business that I'm not looking for because of the demand.

Businesses like this have remarkably a lot in common with beginning social media job seekers also, the subject of last week’s article (Reasons for NOT Starting a Social Media Career). This is good and bad. Mostly good for the agencies and mostly bad for clients and beginning job seekers.

Aside from how to negotiate with a social media agency or pro on a job, which requires it's own article, here’s what to keep in mind.

Look up companies on Glassdoor, Google Reviews, Facebook and LinkedIn

Do you really want to be served by or work for a company that has a lot of issues? Of course not.

One of the most powerful ways to find out if an agency is worth working with is running through a number of sites and seeing how it presents itself. Does the company have good Google reviews (search)? What kind of building is the agency housed in (Google street view)? How much does the agency update its own Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and do updates have substance (pride in presentation)?

But by far the most potentially useful thing you can do is to look up the agency on Glassdoor.

Glassdoor lets employees submit anonymous information about their employers. You can see reviews, salaries and interview experiences. Although the information can be skewed since it is self-reported, it can be very accurate and worth taking a look.

The data can give information about reliability of the company, treatment of clients, company morale, retention and much more. Next time you walk into an agency and see a sign that says it is one of the best places to work, but meanwhile you know morale is low, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of environment you’re dealing with.

Turmoil = trouble

With the proliferation of agencies and individuals saying that they are good to go into business with, you might well wonder if they are knowledgeable enough and can prove that they will take care of you, either as a client or as a job seeker.

The first thing to do is see who the agency’s clients are. Are they big clients commanding respect, or at least clients that carry weight in their industries? Or are the past clients not great? Did at any time the agency have a big client that left? What happened to the number of employees and morale? Does the agency focus on serving one client or many, so that your business as a client would be welcome?

Basically, how stable and consistent is this place in its policies, internally and externally? Hearing that a place has a start-up mentality five years after it launched is not a good sign. Look up the employees on LinkedIn and see what their past histories entails, especially if they have the position you're gunning for. Do the same on Facebook. It's not creepy, you're doing research about stuff which is right out in the open.

Do the math

When looking for information on what the agency did in the past, always steer towards hard numbers that show how the agency’s ideas had an impact on engagement rates. The amount spent on a campaign or how many industry awards were won has nothing to do with the bottom line: attracting consumers and getting them to stay.

There are plenty of Super Bowl ads that people remember fondly, yet how many actually got you to buy the product? If the goal was to get people to buy and they didn’t then engagement didn’t succeed. Always find out if your idea of success matches up with what the agency says it can do for you. Of course you’ll need to have enough data so that the agency can tell you if what you want is doable.

Of course, if you’re a job seeker and you see that the company has a lot of money to spend on campaigns, that might be a good thing – it will mean that you probably going to get a decent salary if you get in, and get to work with smart people and cool technology as well. But you have to ask yourself if all the money but lack of social engagement is worth the approach.

Always act in good faith

If you are willing to reach out to an agency or individual for help, the assumption is that you need help. The people who work at the agency can only help you so much as you are honest in admitting your company’s weaknesses. Although you might feel reluctant to do so in a casual meeting or first-time get together, not telling the truth in the beginning is absolutely guaranteed to get you labeled as a bad client and one who can’t be helped. 

The number of people who actually know how to do digital marketing and PR is surprisingly small, and you don’t want to get a reputation for being an unnecessarily demanding or otherwise delusional client. Marketing and PR professionals gossip just as much as many clients and take things personally, so keep in mind that your manners have just as much of an impact on how you might be treated as the issues that the people you're dealing with him. For example, seeing a client zoom into a handicapped parking spot whenever showing up at the office instead of a normal spot is obviously not going to win them friends. But even doubling back on promises and demanding changes in deadlines with zero input from the agency is likely to damage the relationship. We don't spit in your food, but we will take it personally.

Job seekers, when you want to work at an agency always make sure to do your side and tell the truth about what you can and can’t do. Even if you’re working for the hottest agency in the world, not being up front about your capabilities is going to cause problems. This is doubly so in a sweat shop type agency. You can always move on from an agency, but your reputation will follow you, especially in the online world.

Good luck!

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