‘Recommendation from a peer’ is often ranked as the most common way to appoint an agency – but with more than 30% of marketers considering agency performance to be ‘less than satisfactory, there’s got to be something missing. Here’s what that is.

So, you need a new marketing agency. It’s a new channel or area for you, somewhere you’re not ‘plugged in’ – maybe you need an e-commerce specialist, or you want to start working with video production. What’s your first step?

I’m going to take a look at the two most common ways to find a new agency partner – one cold, one slightly warmer – go through some of the most common challenges you’ll come across, and give a bit of advice on how to work around them to improve your chances of a great relationship blooming.


The majority of in-house marketers looking to find a new agency partner will turn to their network – after all, asking around means you’ve got a recommendation of someone you trust, and potentially a bit of ‘insider knowledge’ on how the agency works. 

Still, there are a number of challenges to this approach that might not reveal themselves until you’ve already invested a lot of time and effort:


Put it this way: There’s an innumerable number of peers that I would trust to steer me in the right direction if I was looking for advice on an agency, but I would say my way of working aligns with about 10% of them. I like to communicate little and often and avoid ‘large’ meetings to review projects wherever possible. I prefer getting sent regular reports over constant catch ups, and I prefer email over a phone call. 

Whilst I might have loved working with former colleagues, or get on very well with people in my network, I couldn’t tell you if they prefer calls to email, or if they like to closely manage anything external.

What’s right for your network isn’t always right for you, and one of the most common reasons we see for a brand not wanting to work with a particular agency boils down to this very process. 

The fix for this? Get to know the agency before making a commitment.

Something we do a lot at GO! in our agency qualification process is what we call a ‘chemistry call’ – it’s a no-strings-attached chance to get to know the agency and the people you might be working with without getting tangled in pitches and further commitments. 

You’re not going to learn absolutely everything in a quick introduction, but taking the work off the table and getting to know the team can at least allow you to get a read on the culture and environment you’ll be partnering with.


While most agencies do cover a wide range of sectors, the strategy and requirements for every industry differs wildly. Everything from the length of your sales cycle to the audience you’re targeting will vary based on the sector you’re in – and an agency that specialises in one might not exceed expectations in another.

The fix for this? It might seem simple, but make sure the agency you’re meeting with can show relevant, clear case studies in your area. 

Take a look at the deliverables vs the initial objectives of the work, review testimonials, and ensure that what you’re going to need specifically can be done by this agency.


This is probably the most ‘un-fun’ of the challenges, but if you’re part of a larger institution, it’s a very real issue that can easily grow. 

Recommendations from a friend may come with a level of personal accountability and expectation that can be stressful at best (nobody wants to have issues with their mate’s mates), but at worst, a poor outcome of the relationship can lead to you being held uniquely responsible for wasted cost or resource.

So what’s the fix for this? Truthfully, there’s no way to 100% future-proof a partnership – but you can do your research. 

If you’re running a large pitch or looking to make a major appointment, ensure you’re keeping the process transparent, considering more than one agency, and getting buy-in from your key stakeholders without any kind of bias.

Similar to buying a house or making any other major commitment – information gathering, running a risk assessment, and benchmarking against at least a couple of other potential partners to make sure you’re genuinely getting a good deal is crucial.

Want to be sure you’re on the right track? Book a call now for a free agency assessment here.


OK so the likelihood of you needing to do a bunch of cold outreach to find an agency that works is relatively low – in fact most decision makers are pretty much inundated with emails to work together every day of their working lives – but you might still be doing what I would refer to as ‘going in cold’.

This is where you look for an agency based on your own assessment of their skill. It’s extremely time consuming, but it does give you slightly more control over recommendations only. Unfortunately it’s also particularly risky, and here’s why.


Let’s expand this a little – it’s hard to get a read on an agency using online presence alone. Whether it’s award wins, testimonials or the overall look and feel, a market of over 25,000 agencies in the UK alone means that the sheer level of saturation and competition makes it pretty hard to cut through the noise.

A great agency will definitely be easier to spot if they’re covered in major wins and sell themselves well, but the only real way to tell them apart is to run a qualification process – and then you’re investing a huge amount of time already. 

So what’s the fix on this? There are a few pointers to look out for when you’re navigating agencies online: case studies, teams, and how they put themselves across.

If you’re looking for a great digital or creative agency, make sure they’re practising what they preach – great UX, concise copy, and a well-laid out offering are good signs. Similarly, look for relevant case studies – ideally with dates – and make sure the information around the team shows skillsets that match your needs.


Chances are that if you’re going in cold, you need something very specific, or you’ve not worked a lot with agencies in this area before. Agency pricing and structures are hard to come across publicly (for good reason), and it makes it pretty difficult to understand if you’re actually getting a good cost with reasonable expectations. 

Agencies have clear KPIs on themselves and will know what they need to charge to stay afloat – but depending on the resource you want, results you’re after, and nature of the project, the ‘better offering’ will differ greatly.

The fix for this one is pretty specific – you need to speak to an expert. 

Not necessarily a consultant, but at least someone who knows the industry, is impartial, and can tell you if you’re working with the best option. I’d be remiss not to flag that our team do this for free all the time, but if you’re particularly against that, then try to speak to an ex-agency contact, or a senior professional that’s dealt with projects like yours.


So that’s it, that’s what’s hard about finding the right marketing agency. Because of the sheer volume of choice, the lack of transparency, and the large amount of time and resource required to get through to the core traits that will make or break a relationship, a lot of in-house teams try to create shortcuts or stick with a partner they’re not making the most of. 

Fixing this challenge is pretty much why we exist – and to do a good job of it, we dedicate our whole business to understanding the current market, sector specific needs and more.

Learn more about what GO! do

Beyond that, there’s a few final pieces to bear in mind when you’re looking for an agency.

Understand your project – write a proper brief.

A clear brief will help you define your requirements in detail to continuously refer to and save you being swept along. You can download our guide to writing a digital brief and template here.

Be upfront about your strengths and weaknesses.

You’re looking to build a proper relationship with any agency you appoint, so don’t worry about being transparent. Tell them what you’ve tried, the challenges, and what you really need. It’s a two way street, after all. Download the Mutual Success guide here for more info.

Charlotte Boerescu-Kelly is Head of Marketing at The GO! Network. LinkedIn

Are you looking for an agency partner or just want to know more? Get in touch here and one of our team will be more than happy to help.

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