Strategy-first marketing and 7 other qualities to look for in an agency

Most of the time, content marketing aims to educate. Maybe it entertains a little here and there, but content marketers tend to focus on education. And while content that teaches does its job, sometimes this kind of content alone can fall flat.

You see it yourself in Google searches. Informative content tends to feel as exciting as a cardboard box. These days, it’s not enough to simply hit keywords and answer search intent. You need to go a step further.

At PACT, we believe content that inspires always comes from a place of passion. So, if you want to step up your content game, start by looking for passionate content creators with whom to collaborate.

An agency prioritises strategy when…

They’re not afraid to challenge you.

Don’t look for ‘yes’ people. While you should like the people at your agency and enjoy collaborating with them, even the most charming service can only take you so far.

The common mistake marketers and business owners make is to hire an agency that agrees with everything they say and does exactly what is asked of them. Six months or a year later, when the campaigns or activities fail to produce results, the agency gets fired, as the client assigns responsibility to them.

Marketing agencies can end up costing you a fortune or saving you a lot. A strategy-first agency adds the most value simply because making tactical errors in marketing often proves very expensive.

An agency that gives you an honest opinion of your ideas or plans before executing on can save you time and resources in execution, as well as big sums in advertising and media costs, not to mention the incalculable costs of misdirected brand awareness.

Of course, you want your agency to be pleasant, cooperative, and optimistic. But you also want them to speak up when they don’t believe your ideas will succeed and offer guidance around how you can better achieve your marketing and business goals.



Seven other admirable qualities

If you’ve already determined that you’re dealing with a strategy-first agency, you’re on the right track—but not there yet. Look for these qualities in a potential agency partner.

1. Proactive attitude

A reactive marketing agency doesn’t initiate contact; they simply return it. They say yes to your asks and deliver on their promises, but they only do what you ask of them, and nothing more.

On the other hand, a proactive marketing agency reaches out to you with ideas, feedback, and suggestions. They deliver what you ask for (of course), but they also go above and beyond, stepping in with new ideas, keeping abreast of what’s happening in your industry (and theirs), and adding real value to your marketing operations—all without being asked.

2. Portfolio

Do they have an extensive portfolio of projects that feel compelling to you, or better yet, that you recognise? Have they worked in industries, with clients, and on projects like yours? Are their portfolio samples presented with rationales and case studies? An impressive portfolio means little without insight into the strategy and thinking behind it.

3. Clients

Look for respected names, brands like yours, and clients who have stuck around for a long time or whom they’ve worked with multiple times. You can look for several clients in the same industry (PACT specializes in technology, finance, and real estate, for example) to see where they have the most experience.

Experience in a particular industry or segment is always helpful. Just keep in mind that industry experience can sometimes come at the expense of originality. That is, when agencies work too deeply in a single space, they tend to repeat the same strategies and tactics. Their work can all look and feel the same, eve when the brands differ.

4. Values

Values like honesty, accountability, and courage make client-agency relationships successful. Does your agency talk openly about their values and passions? We’re not just talking about a values section on their website here. Do they mention ethics in their conversations and engagements with you?

Beyond company values, do they demonstrate integrity in the way they deal with you? Do they deliver on promises, as they say they will? Is the person who welcomes you into the agency the same point of contact throughout your relationship? Does the VIP treatment continue throughout your working relationship, or do you get handed off and de-prioritised shortly after you sign on?

5. Technology expertise

As the economizes rapidly digitizes, every organization, including yours, stands to benefit from massive technology advances such as artificial intelligence and edge computing. Beyond digital marketing such as redesigning your website, your agency should talk to you about the tools you use to execute your sales and marketing.

For example, customer relationship marketing (CRM) platforms combined with secure customer portals enable organizations to automate their sales processes. And you can use powerful systems like HubSpot to nurture relationships strategically, warming up prospects over time and expanding your existing client relationships.

So, ask yourself, do your potential agency partners want to help you operationalize your sales and marketing? Are they up to date with enterprise technologies defined our times? Have they even asked you about your technology stack or innovation strategy?

6. Flexibility

Are they curious about, and willing to get involved with, activities that might not fall directly under their umbrella? Of course, you’re hiring a marketing agency, so you can’t expect them to be experts in and willing to take on absolutely everything that needs doing in your business.

At the same time, the best marketing partners aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with related activities like market research, product design, and investor and public relations. In fact, as agents, they should assist be able to assist you with almost any ask, finding and introducing you to the right people, if nothing else.

Certainly, PACT’s co-founders, Donald Bilodeau and Mike Torre, field all kinds of complex and unusual asks. For example, we informed the new home design for a major low-rise residential housing developer in Canada and reinvented their CAD-to-creative rendering approach. We also designed a needs assessment solution for an intelligence company, dramatically improving their sales discovery and nurturing process.

Many agencies simply decline to get involved in complex asks like these, so make sure your agency is up to any creative challenge you may want to send their way.

7. Big-picture thinking

Does the agency understand your bigger picture? Do they understand how their area of expertise fits within your broader business goals? Or do they only care about the part they play, in isolation? Do they understand your industry and where your business fits within the market, your audience needs and desires, and your challenges?

Your marketing agency partners don’t need to be experts in your industry already, but they do need to understand your unique positioning, audience, and business challenges very quickly, otherwise you could end up heading down the wrong track.

Stop telling and start asking

At the end of the day, the key to getting the most out of your marketing agency investment is to think about partnering, not outsourcing. Don’t tell your agencies what to do. Ask them what you should do instead.

It’s easy to get a ‘good feeling’ about an agency that agrees with everything you say and seems willing to do exactly what you ask for. But the companies that really succeed in their marketing partnerships listen to expert advice, accept the truth, and no when to take ‘no’ for an answer.

Question? Call Us at 416-476-3554