While attending the recent spring conference for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), my friend, and a member of the Brand Acceleration Board of Advisors, Cecilia Harry suggested I develop a checklist that clients could use to best select a marketing communications firm. I love checklists and thought hers was a great idea.
As you might expect, we receive numerous RFPs for our services. Sadly, many are so poorly written that we often can’t figure out just what the prospect wants. We try to be understanding of the fact that RFPs are often written by procurement agents or other non-marketing individuals. So, at Cecilia’s urging, here are a few key considerations that might help:
1. Find a Marketer
A true branding, marketing communications, and public relations partner will think holistically about your needs. Rather than just focusing on tactics such as web sites, brochures, or logos, they will conduct a review of your needs, your audiences, and expectations.
Question to ask: How would you go about developing in integrated marketing plan for my company or community? If he or she hesitates, indicating confusion or a lack of understanding, say good-bye.
2. Seek out a Brand Expert
A true brand expert understands that a brand is not your logo, color, or slogan. These are merely brand stimuli. Your brand is your reputation or promise. For example, when you walk into a McDonald’s or Starbuck’s, you know exactly what to expect. The promise is just that. As long as the company meets or exceeds that promise, the brand is safe.
If, on the other hand, a company has a horrible brand, often as a result of poor quality or service, a new logo will not save it. It will just be a lousy company with a new logo.
Question to ask: What is a brand and what will you do to help us enhance ours? A brand expert will talk about what I’ve just mentioned. The minute he or she starts talking about your logo, or the need for a new one, it’s time to cut and run.
3. Hire a Specialist
If you want an effective marketing effort, you’ll need a partner who already understands your industry and will not require an education in order to be able to help you. Simply using a firm because it has worked with others clients in your industry is no way to select a marcom (marketing communications) firm.
Question to ask: What do (insert audience such as site selectors, buildings administrators, etc.) want to see in our web site, brochures, videos, etc.? If they are unable to quickly and clearly answer that question, move on to the next candidate company.
4. Hire a Web Marketing Expert
When a prospect visits your web site, he or she has very high expectations. For economic developers, the site selection consultant and real estate broker have very specific pages and information they want to see. A trailing spouse has a different list. For AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction)professionals, buildings administrators at higher education or K-12 schools, for example, are looking for something equally specific.
Question to ask: What are the three most important pages my prospects want to see on my web site? Which pages will they visit first, then second, then third? A web marketing expert who specializes in your industry will know the answers. A “web designer” won’t have a clue.
5. Copywriting is Critical
Who’s going to write the copy for your new web site, brochure, ad, or video? Often, the vendor expects you to do this yourself. If that’s the case, run away….fast! Even though you or someone on your staff may be a “pretty good” writer, copywriting is too important to accept “pretty good.” Professional copywriters are wordsmiths who know how to romance readers, painting a verbal picture and moving them to make contact. For web sites, for example, a great writer is a master at writing for search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, which could mean the difference between a top five and a top thirty-five search ranking.
Question to ask a web writer: How have Google’s Panda and Penguin updates changed the way you write for a web site? Uhhh…Panda….Penguin???? So long.
6. Find a Real Design Professional
Just because someone knows the basics of using design software such as InDesign, Illustrator, or PhotoShop, does not make that person a designer. Referring to yourself as a “web designer” does not make you a designer. Trained and highly skilled designers understand the art and science of using beautiful design to enhance a brand and lead the viewer to action. “Pretty” is not good enough.
Ask this question: Where did you get your design degree? A great answer would be a highly-respected design school such as School of Art Institute of Chicago, Herron School of Art, Southern Crescent Technical College, or the University of North Carolina. Answers such as “I’m self-taught,” or “I have no formal training” should send you running.
7. Great Web Programmers are Difficult to Find
What makes a great web programmer? First, you must understand that programming is a rapidly-changing industry. When you consider the relatively recent advent of web apps, social media shifts, mobile devices, QR codes, and augmented reality, the pressure is constantly on programmers to stay on top of the latest and greatest new thing.
Just within the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge shift to Responsive Mobile web sites. This means that all web pages are built in multiple sizes and formats, assuring that they are appropriately sized and structured for a visitor’s computer, tablet, and smartphone. Check out this site on various devices.
Ask this question: How have you utilized Responsive Mobile formatting? Show me examples.
8. What’s your Hourly Rate?
This is a question we hear often. The challenge is that we don’t have an hourly rate. Here’s why. Let’s say Joe has an hourly rate of $60 and Mary charges $100. Which is the better deal? Let’s assume that Joe needs thirty hours to complete a project while Mary does the same work in twelve. Now, which is the better deal? Someone’s hourly rate may not tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell the quality of work you should expect (or, maybe it does), the amount of time the work will require, or what the final bill will be. At Brand Acceleration, we offer our clients a “not to exceed” proposal. As long as the scope of work remains the same, they know what to expect on the invoice. We think this is important to know.
Regarding price, it’s not our goal to be the cheapest. We simply want to be the best.
Question to ask: What will this project cost? If the response is a random calculation of estimated hours, it may be time to move on.
Finding and hiring an industry-specific branding, marketing communications and public relations firm is serious business. It should not to be taken lightly or done on the cheap. Once you’ve found the right person or team, you should expect a partner who will offer intelligent and well-founded counsel that will grow your brand and generate results. When you consider that landing a project can mean millions of dollars to your company or community, it’s too important to trust to a novice or low-price leader.
By the way, please feel free to call me for the answers to each of the questions. I’ll gladly share.
I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your thoughts and personal experiences below.