Now the clocks have gone forward for another year and we've 'lost' an hour's sleep it's a reminder that time is of the essence! Work in particular seems to be always picking up pace and some days I can work flat out without even glancing at my task list.

To sustain this fast pace it's important that we are partnered with the right digital agencies. If you're not meticulous when selecting these agencies deadlines (and the quality of work) will slip. Taking the right amount of time to plan before you even start shortlisting is essential. This process, and spending the time it takes to do it right, is almost as important as staff recruitment.

Here are my 7 top tips for selecting the right digital agency to work alongside on your next big project:

1. Know your digital

If you are the main person tasked with bringing in an agency you need to be digitally literate. I've seen lots of examples of agencies who have been bought in based on the fact they know the latest buzz words alone. Then, when they're asked the difficult questions they crumble. If you are a skilled digital practitioner yourself it makes it a much more interesting conversation. You can discern whether the person you are talking to can add the value you need.

2. Plug the gaps

Many agencies boast that they can deliver your entire digital strategy from social media to website design. But in reality the majority of them have specialisms which you can tap into. You need to work out where an agency can compliment the skills you already have in your internal team. But what if you don’t know what you need? Then go back to the first point and learn more about the different Digital Marketing elements and how they can help you.

3. Practice what you preach

Do your research on the agency before you meet them. Are you impressed with their website? Do they blog and position themselves as thought leaders? I've been told by agencies in the past that their own website is poor because they are so busy with client work which is an easy get out. If you can't visibly see them adding value to social media groups online the chances are they don't know their stuff.

4. Full transparency

Your chosen agency are going to be working with you through good times and bad! This is why it's essential you feel that you can have honest conversations with them. The best agencies I've worked with function like an extension of the team. A good test is that they're willing to share the raw design assets with you. This shows a confidence in the quality of their work.

5. Do you history homework

As with recruiting a new team member you need to be gathering your proof. Take a look at their portfolio to determine if the type of work they've undertaken before is what you're after. Almost all agency pitches contain a slide of company logos of who they've worked with. The real test though is delving into what they actually delivered and the proof that it worked. You also need to tap into your own network for advice from fellow professionals on their agency experiences.

6. Hard questions

I like to leave an agency meeting feeling that I've been challenged. If they've asked me a lot of hard questions then this is proof they are as invested in the project as me. It may not be that enjoyable to begin with, and it may be quite tiring, but this is how you get results. Being surrounded by a team of sycophants doesn't bring out the best in anyone. Good agencies know how to say no.

7. Bring to account

Continuity of account management is essential. Without this you're left explaining your working methodologies and work ethic over and over. A good account manager should be the mediator who ensures both client and agency are getting what they want. As the client you don't want to feel that they are just paying lip service to your needs. They need to care about the project succeeding as much as you.

I still feel like I'm always learning and so are the agencies. It's about being able to take this journey together. At this time of year, when we're all a little bit more tired, we need all the help we can get!
Last week, my colleagues and I were discussing the merits of utilising our email marketing system for internal communications. What became evident was that when procuring new technological solutions, such as these, it is often marketing who take on the role as master.

This is because it is the marketing department who usually have the role of lead generation and ultimately sales. Streamlining this process ends up taking priority to maintaining a successful business and often other functions remain in marketing's shadow.

During our discussions it became clear that what we do externally needs to be mirrored internally. By interrogating these software solutions it's easy to see how they can be utilised for more than just marketing. Advanced features such as A/B testing, smart sending and personalisation can definitely add value to any organisation's internal communications. We all have the same strict targets so the more we can use our resources to prove the worth of our efforts, testing, learning and refining, the better. Gone are the days that a mere read receipt was seen as a win on an all staff email!

These types of digital communications are also the catalyst that has drawn public relations and marketing together. The main benefit of this integrated approach to PR and marketing is that both functions can learn from each other. For example, marketers are generally very good at measuring the success of a campaign in terms of ROI, whereas PRs might focus more on the amount of exposure and potential reach a campaign receives.

PR consultants are also good at telling a story and engaging customers and prospects without any hard sell, something some marketers can struggle with since traditionally their role is to promote a product and drive sales. Content marketing is a prime example of where this approach doesn’t work, instead content (blog posts, social media updates etc.) need to build trust, engage audiences, and raise brand awareness. Marketers can support PRs by helping them create content that also includes, subtly, some of the tools and tactics they use to get audiences to take the next step.

It's important to understand the difference between content and copy in that 'content' is material intended to educate, while 'copy' is material that you write to get people to take a specific action. Content can be more long-form - such as blog posts, white papers, or podcasts. Like this post for example! Copy has to be concise, hard-hitting and focused on what makes people want to take a specific action like: click, download, sign up, share something on social media or make a purchase. Every PR person should learn how to write more effective copy that doesn’t just educate - but also persuades and inspires action.

This action is important because it can drive media coverage and help clients with conversions, web traffic and increased sales leads. Ultimately it also helps to build a measurable public relations and growth marketing program which usually creates a major return on investment.

While there are specific activities that are easy to define as either a marketing job or a PR task, there’s a large pool of shared roles that can be even more efficient when marketing and PR collaborate. I'm very excited to be working in a department which has recognised the importance of shared goals to encourage collaboration.

Whether, it be marketing, PR or internal communications the customer doesn’t care who within a company is talking to them. They just want engaging content that speaks personally to them and adds value.
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