Different organizations need to hire marketing agencies for very different reasons. Some companies are so small that they need to outsource all of their marketing work to someone else so they can focus on operations. Some companies are so large that they’d rather pay a retainer for a marketing agency to handle their marketing efforts than hire a large enough staff to manage all of their marketing needs.

Most organizations are somewhere in the middle, and this makes hiring a marketing agency difficult. What do you need to hire someone else to do? What can you do yourself? More importantly, what’s the best use of your time? Do you want to be focusing on the strategy and letting an agency execute, or do you need an agency to help you build a marketing strategy so that your team has a more defined direction?

These are all tough questions to answer, but we’ve found there are three things you can address to help you find the right marketing agency for you.
What Is Your Current Marketing Infrastructure?
Your first priority should be assessing your current marketing infrastructure. What assets are you proud of? What assets need work? Take a look at the following and give each one a ranking from one to five, with one being “Need something new NOW!” and five being “It looks great.”
Your website
Your blog
Your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn presence
Your Search Engine Optimization, including your Google+ presence
Your email marketing efforts
Your print marketing materials
Your sales support items

Once you’ve taken an inventory of your current marketing infrastructure, you can start to carve out a path for establishing your agency needs. This can range from helping you with one particular area, such as building a responsive website, to helping integrate your marketing efforts with one another, allowing you to run a more cohesive marketing department.

What Are Your Marketing Needs?
Next, take a look at the deliverables that you need the most. Do you really need a new website or updated sales sheets? Does your brand need a refresh, or even a complete rebrand? What are your biggest needs and how can an agency best address them?
Now that you know your needs, you can start the search for a marketing agency. Look up each one of your major needs and research the major agencies in your area who come up for each specialty. I prefer to create a spreadsheet that lists each need and agency. This helps me easily keep track of the agencies we’re interested in, while providing an easy way to find agencies that specialize in two or three of our needs at once.

I usually narrow my list of agencies based on how many of my marketing needs they have good work examples in. This helps me eliminate the “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” marketing agencies who say they specialize in everything. It also helps me find the kind of dynamic, multi-disciplined agencies that can accomplish big marketing projects on time and on budget.

What Are Your Marketing Objectives?
Finally, you should have a short list of marketing agencies that you’re ready to vet. This is when your actual marketing objectives come into play. Make a list of three to five objectives that you definitely want to achieve with the marketing agency you hire. When you meet with each agency on your short list, mention these marketing objectives (including Key Performance Indicators associated with them) and ask them about their experience in accomplishing these kinds of results. These objectives might include:
Increasing sales of X product by Y percent.
Generating $X in revenue.
Reducing costs on X by Y percent.
Increasing your email list by X subscribers or Y percent.
Increasing web traffic by X percent in Y months.

Your ideal marketing agency should be able to show examples of their work for all of the marketing objectives you list. If they can’t show you concrete examples of past work in a given area, make sure you ask a lot of questions about their ideal strategy for accomplishing these objectives to ensure that they know what they’re talking about.