A friend, the CEO of a technology startup, recently received a proposal from a digital marketing agency. He met one of the principals at an event, visited the company, and was impressed with the team and the case studies they showed. He requested a proposal.
Like many startup founders, he knows business, but doesn’t profess to be a communications expert. When the proposal arrived, it was short and sweet – essentially, he’d need forty-thousand dollars for a four to six-week assignment to launch and promote his business.
At that point, my friend asked for some guidance: “What questions do I need to ask to know whether this makes sense for my business?”
The CommunicationsMatch™ team drafted the following questions to use as a starting point to evaluate the proposal and request additional information which he would want detailed in an agency contract.
As with the client checklists we have developed to help companies with agency search (Are You Agency Ready?, Agency Search Checklist ), as well as in selecting an agency search consultant (Questions to Ask PR Agency Search Consultants), these questions serve as a useful tool to assess proposals from PR, digital marketing or other communications-related resources, and address issues that may not be covered in the proposal.
In the case of my friend, the questions helped him to go back to the agency and request the additional information needed to evaluate the proposal. Where the proposal is more comprehensive, they can be used to ensure key bases are covered.
In a recent article, The Confidence Paradox, I wrote that it may be tempting to jump in with both feet when a proposal seems reasonable and the client feels confident in an agency’s ability to deliver. But taking the time to fully understand what’s being promised, what the client company needs to deliver, and what happens if things go south, is essential. Trust but verify - should be the modus operandi.
It may seem obvious but we’ve all, at one point or another, jumped in only to find that the water wasn’t that deep or the current changed direction. Going through the due diligence process of asking the right questions, or having search experts help evaluate proposals, will save a lot of time and potential problems down the road.
With that context, here are ten questions to ask to evaluate communications proposals and what you'll want to ensure is covered in the proposal or contracts.
Q1. What activities does the proposal cover and who will work on the project?
Request a detailed line-by-line summary of deliverables. These need to be incorporated into the agency contract as part of a Master Agreement or Scope of Work addendum signed by both parties. Ensure there is a clear understanding of who will work on the project.
Request a timeline of what will be done during the covered period and what happens if deliverables are not achieved or take longer to realize, or, if it takes you, the client, longer than expected to provide required materials.
The client and agency need to define, in writing, the key performance indicators or other metrics that will be used to benchmark performance. This should be included in the Master Contract.
It is essential to have clearly defined metrics and real-time or regular reports of progress against key performance indicators defined at the start of the relationship.
Seek a detailed explanation of what happens when the contract has been completed.
The Master Contract needs to clearly assign IP to the client, and clearly state that if the agency uses consultants or third-parties, IP or content rights are assigned to the client.
A contract must clearly lay out terms of payment and dispute resolution.
Digital advertising, press release distribution, or other marketing expenses an agency incurs may represent a significant portion of the overall budget. Clients will want to know specifically how these costs are incorporated into the budget and how these costs will be reflected in a payment schedule.
Clients need to know specifically if agency out-of-pocket costs for design, travel, issuing press releases or other agency expenses are included or not. You will want to know if these costs are subject to an agency markup and how they will be billed.
PR and marketing agencies are very good at marketing their stories. It is essential that you get to talk to a minimum of two clients with a similar size and scope of relationship.
Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM
CommunicationsMatch offers communications & PR agency search tools and resources that help companies find, shortlist, and engage communications, digital marketing and branding agencies, consultants and freelancers by industry and communications expertise, location and size. The site has 5,000 agency and professional profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video. Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.