It’s a competitive market. Finding and retaining residents is harder than ever. It requires a robust marketing strategy, a focused team, and a commitment to continual improvement. And sometimes the best path to sustainable growth is through a new marketing agency.
While the thought of changing (or hiring) an agency can feel daunting, it’s a lot easier when you know the questions to ask and why the answers are important. The Markentum team has compiled a list of questions below. Be prepared though to answer tough questions in an agency review process too (covered in another post).
You will want to ask strategic questions and “softer” questions to gain the confidence that the agency you choose can help you achieve the ROI you’ve promised. You’ll notice that this list does not ask specific capability questions. That’s intentional. You can identify an agency’s capabilities online; use the interview or RFP process to understand how the agency candidates will apply their knowledge to your specific situation.
The strategic questions help you understand their marketing sophistication.
#1 What do you know about my industry, my business, my targets?
Broader than the question “Do you know senior living,” this question helps you really understand how well the agency understands the industry nuances, your company nuances, and the nuances of the residents, families, staff, and communities-at-large you serve.
A quick side note: I can tell you from experience that senior living knowledge is the key to an accelerated ramp. I moved into senior living from healthcare. I hired an agency (not Markentum) with great experience, just no senior living experience.
We spent the first year learning together. I went through three writing teams. Not because the writers weren’t good–they were in fact excellent–they just didn’t understand the nuances, and sometimes the basics of senior living.
They didn’t understand the difference between using the phrase senior living community and senior living facility. They didn’t understand the term nursing home. And they didn’t even know about the restrictions of the Fair Housing Act and its impact on paid advertising strategies.
My next agency specialized in senior living.
#2 What strategies do you bring that will help me reach my ROI goals?
When an agency knows your industry, your business, and your targets, its leaders will offer you a strategy that highlights the agency’s knowledge and capabilities and helps you understand the expected results of those efforts. While that strategy may not be spot-on, it should be directionally correct and unique. And the conversation around the strategies will shine a light on how collaborative you and they will be.
#3 What great results have you achieved for a company like ours?
This nuanced case study question will give you an opportunity to learn about recent solutions and results, as well as provide a window into the agency’s knowledge about your organization.
#4 What will success look like in 12 months?
The answer to this question will help identify if the agency is tactical or strategic. If the agency leaders offer a set of measurements (what I like to call feeds and speeds), they are tactical. If they offer measurements in business and marketing language, they understand the cause and effect of their work.
#5 How do you measure and share results?
You definitely want to know how your next agency measures and reports results. Look for an agency that has online tools that you can access, and that the agency uses to drive strategic discussions. Make sure that the team is measuring both quantity and quality month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, and year-over-year.
#6 How do we avoid failing?
This question shows the agency leadership that you are committed to the relationship. You are looking for that same commitment from them. Understand the process to address challenges or issues, the frequency and structure of communication, and even the escalation process when there is an issue.
#7 Unexpected client issues you’ve faced?
When it comes to business, no one likes surprises. You need an agency that can anticipate issues and respond strategically. When you ask this question, you’re asking how well they handle a “crisis” and communicate the next steps.
#8 What are your core values?
"Values" is a term that can be thrown around a little bit like "mission." But the reality is that a company’s values dictate how the leadership and employees interact with clients, employees, and vendors. A company’s values should be apparent in every interaction and should be something upon which you rely.
#9 Who’s on my team?
Never hire an agency without understanding who will do the work for you. Those workers are an extension of your team, and you want to know who they are, what their experience is, and who will guide them.
#10 How much will we collaborate?
At Markentum, we have a saying that we work with–not for–our client (whom we call partners). Know how much you’d like to collaborate with your agency at the outset. Do you want to dictate tactics–and own the results–or do you want to gain the benefit of the agency’s collective experience and share the spotlight?
#11 Will any of the work be outsourced? If yes, to whom?
Outsourcing is common in every industry, including marketing. While outsourcing may decrease costs and accelerate timelines, it could also extend timelines and lead to inferior work that stems from a lack of knowledge. Make sure you meet all of the members of your team and know to whom you have access before you sign a contract.
The softer questions help you understand and really define the nuances of the relationship you have with your marketing agency.
#12 How does your agency select clients?
I was asked this question earlier this year, and it made me think about what makes a good client for us. While you may be looking for a specific answer; the thought process and definition are important. It shows that the agency doesn’t just take any client, that it understands that it performs better under certain conditions.
#13 Who are some of your best clients and what makes the relationship great?
While this sounds similar to the previous question, you are looking for examples of how you can best work with your agency. You should also walk away with a short list of references to call, armed with specific questions.
#14 How does your agency balance process and creativity?
A marketing agency relies on both process and creative juices to succeed. Too much process and the work may be completed on time but is ineffective. Too much creativity and the work may be amazing but late. The answer should be somewhere in the middle and include details on project management tools, whiteboarding sessions, and expectation setting between the agency and client.
#15 What is the size and scope of your average client work?
There is no right or wrong answer here; it’s really about gaining confidence that the agency can handle your work. You don’t want to work with an agency that typically partners with startups if you’re large, or vice-versa.
#16 What is the agency’s research process?
Every agency will conduct research to get smarter about your business. That research could be very formal and extensive, such as brand and market studies, or it could be more focused on your competitors. Hopefully, the answer is not that they are relying on you and your team to tell them everything they need to know.
#17 What information will you need from me to get started?
The onboarding process should dictate your marketing timeline, not the other way around. It’s important to identify the type of information, the amount of time needed, and the level of expertise required to start a project before you jump in.
#18 How is your pricing structured?
Not every marketing project can be defined at the outset, and you should know upfront how the agency determines prices, how and when it invoices, and what the standard payment terms are.
#19 Do you have hidden fees?
Most agencies will have “hidden” fees. They are not designed to extract exorbitant funds from you but to cover their costs. For example, a reporting fee might have the cost of an online reporting tool built in. Print management might include a handling fee to manage the printer negotiations and approvals.
#20 What questions do you have for me?
Just like any good interview process, the candidate agency should be asking you smart questions throughout the process. I believe the more questions the better, especially in this phase, because it means that the agency is not making incorrect assumptions.
Our final recommendation is a simple gut check. Could we be friends? Could you hang out together if you had to? If you don’t feel comfortable grabbing a meal with your agency leadership and team, then the ongoing conversations could be strained. Pay attention to what your gut says. It’s rarely wrong.