Simon Says

Perfect Match

6 Ways to Find the Right Marketing Partner

A black and white photo of two people holding ropes.

We love Jon Hamm in almost everything he does—even those admittedly cheesy ads with Brie Larson for a well-known condiment. But with all due respect to the “Mad Men” star, the days of the Agency of Record (AOR) are as outdated as smoking in the boardroom.

As brands diversify their marketing teams, brands and their marketing teams are moving away from a one-size-fits-all AOR. Instead, they’re trusting several uniquely specialized partners who can give them a competitive advantage on a variety of levels.

They may, for example, partner with one agency for demand generation, another for pay-per-click campaigns, and yet another for content creation. Or they may simply take their project load and split it up evenly across several partners.

While this modern approach to agency life opens the door to exciting opportunities for both brands and partners, it also makes choosing an agency more complex. To find the perfect match, brands today need to look far beyond the biggest agency with the largest trophy case.

These six key considerations can help marketers weigh their options and identify the agency partners that will bring them the greatest value.

  1. Your needs
    • Before you search Google for “best creative agency in healthcare,” start instead by considering your company’s specific needs. Here, brands typically take one of two tracks. Some already have a rock-solid marketing plan in place, but they need a partner to help them execute it. Others seek an agency that will provide both strategy and execution. This second type of company expects their marketing partners to challenge their thinking and offer up fresh ideas.
    • This choice typically comes down to an organization’s (and its decision-makers’) personal preference. The good news is that many agencies today can provide tactical and strategic work capably. Before getting started, ask potential agency partners for examples of work they’ve created for similar clients and seek to understand how they leveraged them to deploy successful campaigns.
  2. Industry knowledge
    • Your in-house marketing team knows your industry—and your ideal customer profile—inside and out. That means you’ll expect a partner who can help you speak to those people in their language.
    • The reality is that creative agencies can’t be all things to all companies anymore. An agency that’s skilled in healthcare marketing may not speak the language of manufacturing. In the same respect, a partner that’s great at higher education may not know how to reach decision-makers in retail. Whatever your industry, the key to finding the right partner is ensuring their industry expertise matches yours. That shared knowledge will set you up for long-term success.
  3. Agency structure and scale
    • This is where size enters into the agency selection picture. If you’re a marketing lead for a global enterprise, for example, you may wish to partner with an agency that matches your company in size. That’s understandable. But sometimes, larger companies may mesh better with smaller agencies.
    • Here’s why: small-to-midsize agencies can offer you direct access to agency decision-makers. Their smaller size often allows them to be nimbler, which means they can get your campaigns to market faster.
    • The key for CMOs is to decide which agency scale they’re most comfortable interacting with, and then use that knowledge to narrow down the field of potential partners.
  4. Work style
    • Choosing an agency that fits your work style comes down to knowing your communication preferences. Do you want to work with a single point of contact at an agency, or do you want to work with multiple people in a team setting?
    • With a larger agency, you’ll benefit from access to a deep bench of professionals. But that also means you may need to work with multiple contacts, have more frequent meetings, or need to navigate through siloed functions. And because hours equate to dollars, this could all add up.
    • With a smaller agency, you may have fewer team members by your side, but you will likely have greater access to those team members. And because smaller agencies typically have fewer clients, you may benefit from more personalized service that you can leverage when you need it the most.
  5. Capabilities
    • When it comes to capabilities, perception isn’t always reality. By definition, larger agencies will likely have one or several experts in multiple marketing functions on their in-house team—from graphic designers and copywriters to marketing automation whizzes. Yet, you may be surprised to learn that the same is true for small-to-midsize agencies as well.
    • The difference here is how they’re structured. With a large agency, you benefit from having all that talent in-house. In contrast, small-to-midsize agencies may contract with specialist partners or freelancers to source, for example, the best content writers or video producers to meet your specific needs.
    • To weigh your potential agency’s capabilities, ask them about the expertise of both their in-house staff and their partner network. Then make a choice that makes you most comfortable.
  6. Agility
    • You know those days when you get five new project requests and they’re all a priority? That’s why it’s so important to choose an agency that’s agile. You’ll want your partner to flex up and down with you as your priorities and needs change.
    • One important consideration when it comes to agility is the type of projects you’re outsourcing. Do you need a partner to work on a major initiative with a six-month lead time, or do you need an agency that will churn out smaller projects faster? Or do you need a mix of both? Ask potential partners about the type and scope of projects they’re willing to take on. Also, ask how they handle shifting priorities, and ask them to illustrate examples of how they’ve delivered results quickly for their clients.

Avoid agency buyers’ remorse

The evolving nature of agency partnerships means that marketing leaders today need to make even more decisions—and sit in on even more pitches—than in the past. That’s why choosing the right agency partner is so important. A few smart ways to avoid buyers’ remorse:

  • Take a test drive. Ask potential agency partners to tackle a pilot project. This will help show you exactly how they work with your in-house team, the quality of work they provide, and how their communication style fits with yours.
  • Look for chemistry. You’ll want your agency partners to be reliable and approachable. If you experience any missteps during the vetting process, it may be a potential red flag.
  • Ask for samples. Request case studies showing how potential partners drove results for companies similar to yours. This will help you know whether they truly understand your audience, their challenges, and their needs.
  • Vet the agency and its people. Don’t fall for the dreaded agency bait-and-switch. Make sure the people you talk with at your agency are the people you will actually work with on a day-to-day basis.

And if you do all your homework and decide that a small agency could be the right partner for your next great marketing initiative, reach out to us. We’re ready when you are.

Let’s see what we can do for you.

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  1. “Harvard Business Review, “Marketing When Budgets Are Down,” June 27, 2023.”
  2. “Gartner, CMO Spend & Strategy Survey, May 22, 2023.”
  3. “Integrate, State of B2B Marketing Budgets 2023 Survey, April 25, 2023”