The Insights Blog

Questions marketers should be asking their agencies

Questions marketers should be asking their agencies


Change is all around us. And the pace of change continues to accelerate. Marketers are expected to build their brands, drive revenue, grow market share, guide new product enhancements and introductions, partner with Sales and lead digital transformations. It’s never been more complex or challenging to be a marketer or an agency that supports marketers.

Regardless of the industry, company or challenge that marketers are facing, one universal theme has emerged: marketers need to get every possible ounce of impact from their marketing and agency investments.

To help marketers and agencies deliver that outsized impact, we’ve identified the key questions marketers should be asking their agencies (which are critical questions for agencies to be able to answer!). What are those questions?

How do you approach and advise your clients on the best mix of strategies and investments that drive both short- and long-term success?

This is a key question marketers should be asking the agencies that serve as lead strategic partners.

Many marketers are wrestling with this question daily, and rarely are they well served by their agency partners. How should a brand manage the split between brand support and performance spending? What philosophies and processes does the agency leverage and what evidence do they have that their recommendations are based on data and proven methodologies?

Not every agency should be tasked with answering this question. Marketers often need a roster of agencies that are tasked with delivering excellence within a narrow area, function or channel. But you need to be able to effectively respond to this line of questions if you claim to be a strategic advertising, digital or media shop.

What is the agency staffing strategy to ensure the ability to deliver ongoing excellence?

What is the agency doing to hire, train, develop and retain the best talent?

The agency business is a people business. Most agencies of similar sizes have roughly the same capabilities and tools. It is the people and how they use their capabilities that make the difference. Maintaining an exceptionally talented team is one of agency leadership’s key challenges.

Agency staffing is becoming more challenging everyday. Agencies compete with big tech, consultants, startups and insourced positions for the same people. Many agencies also lack the diversity that is clearly evident in the staff and target audiences of their clients and prospects.

And, while hiring the best people is a good start, making sure they are equipped to succeed on your account’s behalf and don’t job-hop is a critical related step. What training programs are in place for strategy development, insight identification, Martech and Adtech, basic account service, project management, and key functional skills?

What is your agency’s strategy to ensure that you have the right staffing to support your clients with distinction?

What is the agency’s holistic technology strategy?

AI is the topic of the day. And it is an important topic. Agencies need to be able to talk about AI and how AI and related technologies are being explored, tested and adopted to deliver better client outcomes.

Having said that, marketing and agency work are complex systems and require holistic solutions. What is the agency’s plan to leverage modern technologies to deliver better client outcomes across the workflows needed to do the work? How is technology used to deliver more and better content to the right audiences at the right moment? How does technology reduce cost of service and help marketers extend their investments?

What is the agency’s holistic technology strategy and how does it benefit clients?

Bonus: four evergreen questions…

1. What is the agency’s strategic process?

2. How does the agency identify key insights about target audiences, competition, and brand?

3. How does the agency ensure that agency and client workflow are seamlessly planned and delivered to ensure agile marketing practices that meet the needs of the business?

4. What should I know that I don’t?

Great talent together with outstanding processes can yield fantastic outcomes. Process and approach questions are important to be sure that your agency is purposeful in its activities.

The best agencies are also thought partners that bring new ideas, skills and knowledge to the table that clients wouldn’t have without them. Ask them what you should know that you might not already know. And then ask again. And again.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.