Hiring a Digital Agency: 5 Things You Need to Check Out Before Signing Up

CATEGORY: Digital Marketing


Two months ago, when I thought of writing this post, I was working on a presentation for small businesses in our Forward by Anakle programme. The plan then was to show the value of digital technology beyond social media, but as I wrote, the post took on a life of its own abusing companies who only offered social media services as digital marketing.  But because I’m really a good person😇 , I’ve deleted the diss track and left behind what I hope is a useful list of important things to watch out for before hiring a digital agency.


Your agency needs to know what’s up

What is what’s up, you ask? You know that time Instagram loudly transitioned from being all about selfies to a huge direct-to-customer marketplace? Yeah, your agency needs to have seen that coming and told you ahead of time. If they didn’t tell you then, at least they should have told you before everyone and their brother was already doing it. There’s a lot to be gained from early movement, and your agency is there to give you the information to make that important move at the right time.

What about the constant reinvention of Facebook, from being your grandma’s favourite online space to where people are aggregating in groups to do everything from influencing elections to selling healthy foods? Well, that’s what’s up now, but your agency should have already told you this, and how to tweak it to your benefit.


Design-to-market capacity

The Digital Agency wasn’t set up to only serve ads. No, sir. It was setup to improve the process, from backroom to front desk marketing. Digital agencies need to be able to help clients take their products from design stage to market. If the agency isn’t able to help you get the right product way before you’re heading into the market, then you need a new agency (in Bovi’s voice).

This is where my plug is shameless. I think one of the reasons our clients like us is that we help them from the product concept stage to design, UX and development, as well as market research and testing before we finally do the dirty marketing work. I’m also going to confess that those free UX sessions we do are actually covered in the later stages if your product actually gets to go to market.

The truth is having the agency work with product teams from the early stages helps everyone understand the product and build for the market the agency would be pushing the product into.


Data: hunting, gathering, and making fire with

I know your agency talked about big data during the pitch, and they sounded really impressive. I mean, even I would sound smart if I said big data, wearing tortoiseshell glasses. But did you ask what big data really meant to them, and how big the data really is?

A few years ago, we were working with one of the old-new banks to improve their internet banking application (yeah, your digital agency needs to be able to offer top and bottom line technology services), and were deciding on the top 5 services to make visible on the menu, before hitting the “more” button. We knew the services we liked and the ones we hated – I particularly hated the button that allowed you see your liens, but not because it exposed my minimum wage education – however, the big ogas liked many other services.

So we asked the bank to give us the data of which services the consumers used the most, the ones that get the biggest transactions, and the ones they made the most money from. We found airtime, interbank transfer and FX transfers met those requirements respectively. With great joy, we let go of the “lien viewer” button and pushed our top 5. Adoption of the platform increased 1000% over one quarter (don’t ask how bad it was before, it was bad).

So the point here is that big data isn’t big data because it’s very big (sometimes it’s big sha), but because drawing simple patterns in a big pot of jollof rice could be the best way to reveal where the meat is hiding inside. Otherwise, you could also try scooping with a tablespoon until you discover the meat, but good luck with that. Nigerian banks, telcos and insurance companies have a LOT OF DATA. The agency’s job is to convince them to allow small adventures with the data.


Sometimes, it’s about the money

I have to say this one because it happens all the time. The cheapest agency isn’t the best, and the most expensive ones aren’t necessarily the best either. But one thing is sure, your agency should be good at spending your money. Of course, I didn’t mean your agency should blow your money, I meant it should give you value for money. Anyone can spend money on ads, but creating very good content can cut your digital ad spending by up to 50% – your agency needs to deliver that valuable content (and the brand needs to get out of the way to let that happen).

Value for money is one of the reasons the big brands pay retainers to agencies, so they’re focused on creating for the brand, and not looking to pinch profits from ad budgets (but that’s a complete ‘another’ conversation).

But I’m not saying what you’re thinking either. One time, we really liked a brand and went all out to get it. Our first campaign,  we did for free, shot a low budget video on an iPhone and a drone, and built a very sticky web app. After getting over 200,000 people to engage with the brand for free, the brand decided to ‘try us out’ for a year, with almost zero budget, so they could see how much more creative we can get. NO, THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT.


Watch out for the little guy who came separately

Big agencies often hire independent guys who don’t have the legs to get into the pitch to come “do the work”. Always watch out for those guys. Skinny, hungry, but generally knowing the work. It’s very likely they came separately and don’t have the sheen of big agency airconditioning. Bet on those guys.

Of course “these guys” don’t include the guys who offer “10,000 Twitter followers for N10k”, or the Trend Gangs. No seriously, those are not the guys you should be talking to. (I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle here though, man must wack please).

For most of 2011-2012, I was that guy. Our company strategy was to build what we called ‘transparent partnerships’ with big, connected agencies, who got us in the room to pitch and execute for them. We knew what the agencies didn’t, but they had the access we didn’t, so we ended up doing big-budget work, and getting paid 20% of the project value. But no complaints, that how to pay the dues. I remember the first time a brand manager spotted me out and tracked me down off-site, he said, “We didn’t hire that big agency because their traditional pitch was weak, but we liked your side, and we don’t think you work for them…”

Keep an eye out for that guy. But if the little guy is pitching against us, forget I said this.


Editi Effiong

CEO, Anakle