Four no-bullshit questions to ask when considering a new marketing partner

STB no-bullshit strategy advice

Before you put a ring on it, ask these four questions. Because a bad relationship is a nightmare.

You’re trying to find a marketing or growth partner. Where do you start? How do you separate the good from the bad? Aren’t they all the same?

No. They’re not all the same. This is a complex, high-stakes decision you’re facing. Take a deep breath. Start with these questions. It will set you on the right track to finding the best partner for your business.

Have an agency you’re wanting to assess? Great. Let’s get started:

Question One: Do I Need What This Agency is Good At?

Do you know what your immediate goals are? If not, bookmark this guide. Take a step back. Sit down with your team and work out what your organisation's short term targets are.

Businesses need to look for an agency that specialises in the services that they need. That is, they want to choose a partner who can contribute to their immediate goals.

Let's say you want to increase the number of leads your website generates.  You might then look for an agency that specialises at SEO and social media. But agencies that offer those services alone won’t get you as many leads as an agency whose expertise is in online lead generation.

Consider whether your agency's specialisations are aligned to your goals. If they're not, move on. If they are, let's look at question two.

Question Two: Does This Agency Care About My Targets?

STB always incorporates target based pricing

Too many agencies focus on billing based on hours and commission. You know what this means?

  • That the longer it takes them to hit your targets, the more money they make. And;

  • The more money they spend on hitting your targets, the more money they make.

You know what we call organisations who pursue this kind of pricing model? Bullshit. Advertising agencies.

This is an old school model that is quickly being replaced. Not only does it represent inefficient spending for you, but it also suggests a lack of innovation. The best organisations challenge themselves and evolve. The worst wait until the market tells them it's time to change. They wait until it’s too late.

What should you be looking for? A partner whose pricing focuses on value. An agency where pricing is built on two components:

  1. A base fee for services provided. Everyone's gotta eat. There’s no way around this. So a reasonable base fee should be expected. Make sure it should be a competitive amount for the services you need. And ensure it's in combination with;

  2. A cost per success. Depending on your business, this may be a cost per lead or cost per acquisition. Whatever it is, it needs to make sense for you and reflect the value you place on a win. Why do this? Because money talks. Aligned incentives are the best way to ensure a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship.

Nail the pricing model and you’re a long way down the right path.

If the agency you’re considering prices in this manner, or similar, please move to the next question.

If they don't? Quietly, but forcefully, burn their business cards using the nearest industrial strength incinerator.

Question Three: How Do They Handle Situations Where They Make Mistakes?

So you’ve found a potential growth partner who is good at what you need them to be good at. They price in a way that incentivises them to provide value to you. What else do you need?

Ask this agency to tell you about a time where they got something colossally wrong. A time when, because of a decision they made or an action they took, they fucked up on a piece of client work.

Ask them to walk you through, in as much detail as possible, how they recognised their error. How they made plans to correct it. How they regained their client’s trust, and restored campaign performance.

Basically: ask them what they did after they had Kendall Jenner save the world with a can of Pepsi.

Stop the bullshit, Pepsi. Wonder what Creators League Studio, Pepsi's in-house creative studio, said after this? 

Stop the bullshit, Pepsi. Wonder what Creators League Studio, Pepsi's in-house creative studio, said after this? 

Question Four: What’s Their Diversity Record?

OOOOOhhhh controversial. Wait. No. This isn’t controversial. Not even a little. For the sake of this exercise, I want you to forget your preconceived notions of diversity. We're looking at diversity as it relates to your business performance. And the thing with diverse teams?


They’re more creative. “If you are looking to generate more creative ideas to solve a problem, the best thing you can do is to diversify your thinking.” Diversity in thinking is great. One way to bring it about in a team or business situation is to build a diverse team. And;

They deliver better results. We all instinctively know that diversity is good. It’s more fair, it builds a better society, and it expands our horizons. In addition to this intrinsic goodness, research shows that diversity is good for business. Recent McKinsey research found that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

What does this mean for your agency partner? A diverse agency is more likely to perform exceptionally. And thanks to your diligent attention to Question Two, a better performing partner means better results for you.

Plus, diverse teams are more awesome.

The Takeaway

If you’ve made it through questions one to four and the agency you’re assessing is looking positive, congratulations: you have a potential winner.

If you’re still shopping, complete this form for access to STB’s Agency Assessment Scorecard.

The no-bullshit scorecard will allow you to compare agencies against each other and make the right choice for you. We'll send it you, no questions asked.

Happy shopping, friends. Here’s to stopping the bullshit.

Steffen Rusten