Choosing a B2B marketing or PR technology agency can be daunting unless you have a background in one of those fields. Here we give an insider’s guide to the things to look for, based on our experience of being on both sides of the table at meetings.
1. Relevant experience
This is the first question you should ask. If they have worked for similar tech clients before, they will know what does and doesn’t work. You’ll also save a lot of time as you won’t have to bring them up to speed on the sector, just your business. When asking about relevant experience, check that the same individuals are involved, rather than a separate team within the agency.
2. Right skills?
Agencies need the right skills to achieve your marketing and PR objectives. Digital skills are a must, but some agencies will have a deep knowledge of sub-specialisms such as content or SEO, while others will be stronger in other areas. Don’t take their word for it – ask for previous examples of their work.
3. Breadth of offering
A related question is how broad their offering is. Are you looking for a one-stop-shop, or are you happy to go to one agency to write a press release, then another one for search engine optimisation? Be aware that agencies with a broad offering may not be specialists in all of them. Ask how long they have been offering the services you use. This also applies to agencies with a global footprint, as some agencies may have a loose affiliation with their overseas offices rather than being a unified organisation.
4. Profile of other clients
Does the agency have other tech clients of a similar size and that operate in a similar way? For example, if you are working for the UK subsidiary for a global company which is HQ’d in the US, have they got experience of that? If they’ll need to liaise with your counterparts in other countries, are they comfortable dealing with people for whom English is a second language? This will show they have experience of working with companies like yours. If your business is much smaller than their smallest client, you may wish to ask how they will ensure that you won’t be left to the Account Execs whilst the big hitters work with the blue chip clients.
5. Strength of media relationships
If you are talking to a tech PR agency, ask about the strength of their media relationships, as this will influence the quantity and quality of coverage they can secure. How often do they speak to journalists? Which reporters write regularly about their other clients?
6. Senior counsel
If they have a senior person on the team, will you have regular access to them, or will they attend the initial meetings and Christmas drinks only? Are their comments in your discussions generic, or specific to your business?
Is the agency proactive or reactive? If you’re just looking for an agency to churn through your briefs and not add any value then you’ll want a different type of agency to the one who prides itself on being proactive, helping you to come up with content ideas based on what they are seeing in the industry and the hot topics that the media are writing about and making suggestions about optimising content for SEO for example. This approach can be really helpful if you want to ensure your content is aligned to the key issues of the moment or your PR pipeline is looking a little dry. Proactive agencies will do this naturally, but reactive agencies just aren’t wired this way so expect them to struggle.
8. Do they understand channel?
Most technology companies go to market either via a two tier model involving distribution and reseller partners or via a combination of direct and indirect working with select partners (although there are lots of variations to this). This indirect route to market is known as the technology channel and the way the channel works, the terminology and the messaging to distributors and partners is very different to end user marketing. A good tech agency should be fluent with both.
9. Chemistry / cultural fit
You are going to work closely with your agency, hopefully for some time, so it’s important that you find one where you have a lot of synergy. Things to ask yourself are: Do you get on with them? Do your values align? Would you be comfortable putting them in front of senior management? Do you feel as if they will be ‘the agency’ or more like an extension of your team working together with you to achieve your goals?
Ask about their processes for onboarding, for briefing, for reporting. Do they ask you to sign an NDA? Do they ask for purchase orders? Although some of these may seem onerous, they are a sign of an agency that is professional and has solid commercial and finance processes in addition to their marketing and PR processes. Part of their kick off processes should include lots of questions for you to answer to ensure they are clear on your processes as well. Robust processes are a good indication of a highly organised agency. A lack of process could mean that you get a different experience every time you brief them and different reporting making it hard to analyse results across campaigns and risking key things being missed during the briefing. The old adage the Proper Preparation Prevents P*ss Poor Performance definitely applies here!
Ask about how the results of the work will be measured, and how often you will be updated on progress. Measuring PR should always been included as you can improve a campaign if you don’t track how it has worked.
12. Do they care?
If an agency cares you know they’ll be there for you when you need them and they’ll have your back. Ask them for examples of this. It should come from the heart of the agency and you’ll get a feel based on the stories they share with you.