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In today’s hurried work environment, outsourcing marketing is often necessary and has proven to help firms with branding and increased sales. But outsourcing can be expensive and non-productive if you don’t know how to select the right firm and what to expect in terms of fees, contracts, and more. The key to success is understanding best practices related to hiring such consultants.

Different Consultants Offer Varying Skills
To begin, not all marketing agencies are the same. Matching your needs with the core services and expertise of your chosen agency is essential. For example, most full-service agencies will work with you on branding efforts; create marketing, sales, and advertising materials; and handle web site development and electronic marketing including social media. Contrast these services with a graphic design or web design firm, both of which may or may not possess any copywriting expertise. And, while some agencies offer public relations services, another option is partnering with a firm that specializes specifically in publishing, technical writing and the PR process. Other options include market research, telemarketing, trade show, specialty giveaways, or event planning firms.

Further, your chosen marketing firm must understand the concrete industry. After all, why would you trust your marketing and branding efforts to a firm that knows nothing about your business? Your consultant may have won a variety of awards for television commercials, billboards, and point-of-sale displays in grocery stores, but if you have to spend hours explaining that your office is made of concrete — not cement — and that the "latest design trends" does not mean the clothing seen on a New York runway, be careful.

Understanding the Cost of Services
Adhering to the same philosophy you probably present in your sales efforts – that owners should not select a firm or product based on low-price alone – don’t select a marketing firm with cost as the only criteria. But fully understanding how your consultant charges for services is important. Many agencies will propose a retainer basis, which is ideal if you are working on a variety of projects and want to dispense with the constant back-and-forth with contracts and project estimates, but be sure to ask for an accounting of hours each month, and goals for the upcoming month, to ensure you are on the same page with your consultant.

Lump-sum project fees also are common. Expect to pay for a portion of the contract upfront and be sure to review standard costs that are typically passed on to the client, such as camera-ready artwork, film, couriers, overnight shipping, and stock photography and images. Also be sure to agree on who owns the final product.

The Selection Process
With a strong understanding of the services you desire, begin your selection process. For branding, strategic planning, or other large marketing efforts, an RFP is completely acceptable, while interviews may suffice for smaller projects. Regardless of project size, be sure to speak with other clients they have worked with and obtain all estimates in writing with a detailed scope of work.

Finally, ask your consultant for an exclusive agreement that prevents them from working with your competitors. After all, you will need to share your marketing strategy, goals, and objectives with your consultant to arm them with the information they need to create success.