A Marketing Firm's Role and What to Know Before Selecting One

Marketing Firm
••• Getty Images / Gregory Kramer

Many people find it difficult to sort out exactly what a marketing firm does. To keep it simple, a marketing firm is any company that assists a business with customer acquisition and conversion optimization. It's also important not to lose customers. 

There are several types of marketing firms, and hiring the wrong one can result in a loss of money and time. It’s also important to consider budget constraints. A company should not hire a marketing firm that is beyond its budget, but it should also use caution if it chooses a less expensive (and likely less qualified) firm that may not be capable of delivering the goods.  

Questions to Ask a Marketing Firm and Expected Responses

If you're interested in hiring a marketing firm for the first time, there are some key questions you should ask. It's also important to be aware of the expected answers.

  1. Who will be managing my account and who will we be working with? Expect a response like, "You'll be working with a manager and team who have a combined 30 years of expertise in your field, and have represented similar firms." 
  2. Compared to your other clients and their retainers and production needs, how do we compare? Expect a response like, "You fall in the mid-range as far as fees and workload are concerned, but rest assured, every client is different and our job is to meet your individual needs. If we fall short we want you to let us know."
  1. Are there specific planning or strategy exercises that we will be participating in to help bring your firm up to speed? Expect a response like, "We'll be asking you to take part in a client inventory analysis at the onset and then we'll reconvene once a month to make sure strategy is on point."
  2. How are client collaboration and communication handled? Expect a response like, "You'll be assigned a day-to-day point person who will report to the No. 2 person on your team. Your day-to-day contact will be responsible for all communication, but all members of your team receive all two-way communication. You'll also be communicating with the VP on your business in your monthly client meetings. Collaboration begins when you provide us with the necessary information we need to implement the program and then we work jointly on an as-needed basis. For example, if you're launching a new product at a brick-and-mortar outlet we would work with you from the inception of the marketing strategy to being present at the event." 
  1. What key performance indicators do you as a firm focus on when it comes to client work? Expect a response like, "We like to look at the percentage of income a business receives from returning customers, but we also examine new customers, as well as customer attrition." 
  2. What are your reporting practices? How often will we get reports, and what will be contained in the reports that we receive? Expect a response like, "We send out monthly reports that state objectives, activity, and measurable results, as well as work still in progress. We do this so that you know how we've spent our time and your money." 
  1. If you could map out the first 120 days of working with your firm, what would that look like? Expect a response like, "We spend the first month getting to know you and your business and the next month custom tailoring a plan for you. We begin implementing the plan in month three, and you'll start to see results beginning in month four."

Be aware that some of the answers you receive will be based on the kind of marketing effort you are seeking. For example, if you want a marketing consultancy to analyze your plan, they will report back to you at the end of their effort. But if you're hiring a firm to do a digital or telemarketing campaign, the company should report back to you very quickly, and frequently.

Different Types of Marketing Firms

Marketing companies can help your business develop a marketing strategy, plan and manage campaigns, or provide specific services, such as telemarketing or market research. You can retain their services for a specific project or hire them on a retainer basis to assist you over a period of time. You can also hire individual consultants or freelancers with specialist marketing skills to plan and manage projects.

Here are a few types of marketing firms:

  • Marketing consultancy: Marketing consultancies help by auditing your marketing plan and offering suggestions. Consulting agencies are usually not directly involved in the implementation of a marketing plan—they simply do a deep analysis of the plan and present sound suggestions for actionables such as launching a new product or entering a new market sector.
  • Direct marketing: Direct marketing companies help you plan and manage direct mail campaigns. They can provide you with mailing lists that match your target market and design and write direct mail pieces and create mailing items. Direct marketing companies also handle mailing out items on your behalf and measuring the response to the campaign.
  • Telemarketing: Telemarketing companies provide telephone-based marketing services by acting as a call center for your business. While telemarketing may sound old-school, many firms are switching from land-line calls to smartphone calls or text pitches.
  • Digital marketing: Digital marketing companies help you make use of the internet or social media in your marketing program. They can help you develop or improve your website or launch an e-commerce service. These firms will also advise you on ways to use social media to communicate and interact with customers and prospects.
  • Marketing communications: Marketing communications consultancies plan and develop communications material, such as brochures, product guides, newsletters, and customer magazines. They provide writing, design, and production services, and offer advice regarding the kinds of communications materials you will need to support activities you undertake, such as new product launches.

Any business that lacks the time or ability to plan and implement its marketing efforts should hire a marketing firm. It doesn't matter if it's a big firm with a staff of 500 or a small business with a staff of five. As long as they can get the job done, you'll be better off in the long run.