What To Look For In A Digital Marketing Agency

what to look for in a digital marketing agency

After spending a lot of time talking with perspective customers of Augurian, I’ve come to the realization that many prospects aren’t even sure what to look for in a digital marketing agency. So, I wanted to share my take on our industry and how to find the right marketing agency.

When looking for a digital marketing agency you should keep in mind that all agencies aren’t created equal. The two places to start are by looking at their size and their DNA. If I had to pick, DNA is more important than size. Let’s explore why.


You may be asking, why agency DNA is what to look for in a digital marketing agency? The answer is mostly found in how you’re defining “digital marketing” and what exactly you are trying to accomplish. You see most agencies get their start in one key specialization and bolt new services on as they grow. For example, take an agency that started in web-development and moved into social media and then PPC, SEO, and so on. As they began growing their website clients may have asked, “Do you do SEO?” and they said “yes” and then did their best to stand up an SEO service. But, their DNA was and always will be as a web-development firm.

Another example would be a branding agency that is full of cultural creatives with amazing abilities to develop great messaging and visually appealing design. Over the years, they may have stood up a PPC or SEO practice area in response to client needs – but their DNA remains in branding.

So, when agencies that seemingly can do it all are in your consideration set, take time to figure out where they got their start. Big clues about an agency’s DNA can be found by looking at how many people on the team actually have titles related to what you’re trying to accomplish. In the case of our website design firm example. They may have a whole team of web developers, UI/UX designers, but only one person responsible for managing PPC or SEO. So, if what you’re really trying to accomplish is improving your online marketing through PPC or SEO – then this example web dev firm probably isn’t going to be your best option.

Of course, if you need a new website, then by all means – seek out that web-development firm. Or if you need to freshen up your brand and messaging – choose that branding agency. My point is that if your website, brand and messaging are good to go – and what you’re really looking for is demand generation, more leads, or revenue growth – then be sure to ask yourself if the agencies in your consideration set have the right DNA to help you accomplish your goal.

Now let’s turn our focus on why agency size is what to look for in a digital marketing agency.


Yes, size does matter. As a matter of fact we recently won some business and the decision maker told me that they’d looked at three different size agencies:

  1. A small, one person shop (ie: freelancer)
  2. A large ‘agency of record’ that has been around for decades with 500+ employees
  3. Augurian, a mid-size agency with 20+ employees

What I found interesting was that this decision maker knew right away that Augurian was the right size. He mentioned that the small agency didn’t inspire enough confidence and was worried that they’d be highly reliant on this one person to stick around. His feedback about the large agency was that they made him sit through an entire presentation about how great they are and didn’t show much interest in getting off script or taking about the details surrounding his particular company and situation. With Augurian he liked our approach, felt heard and had confidence that we’ve got systems built and redundancies that would ensure his account was always taken care of. In his case, we were the right choice (sorry for the self-promotion, but it is our blog after all!)

So let’s explore these three sizes a little more:


Like agencies, freelancers come in all flavors. If a freelancer unicorn exists, they’d be a person who really knows their stuff, stays really up-to-date on the latest innovations in the industry, is a great strategist, an exceptional communicator, understands data and analytics, and can do kick-butt execution. If you run across one of these unicorns, I want to meet them – we’re always looking to network (‘hire’) amazing people! Unfortunately, unicorns don’t exist.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I take my hat off to most freelancers, they’ve got to hustle to make their businesses work. They’re doing sales, closing deals, developing strategy, executing on strategy, creating reports and insights, and running the day-to-day back office of a normal business. Whew! Realistically, one person can only do great work for very few clients.

Here are some things to consider:

  • What are their technical chops?
  • How are they setting up and managing your campaigns? Who owns the accounts?
  • How often are they touching your account? Will anyone else touch your account (ie: off-shore? out-source?)
  • What will your meeting and reporting cadence look like?
  • How many client accounts are they managing? How big will your account be, in comparison to their other accounts?
  • Can they really do PPC, SEO, Content and Analytics? Or do they have strength in one area and are just getting by in others?

Most of the large ‘agencies of record’ have been around for decades and come from the ‘Mad Men’ days of advertising. Their DNA is in research, branding, graphic design, media buying, audio & video production and photography. They’ve bolted on email marketing, social media management and digital marketing.

Large agencies can do a lot of things, most of which the do really well. However, they’ve got significant overhead and many times what is good for the agency’s bottom line doesn’t always line up with what you’re trying to accomplish. They’ve got a legacy system and an internal business model making them more bureaucratic and less flexible. However, large agencies are often times the choice of large companies because it’s one relationship to manage and the size parity provides a certain level of comfort.

Here are some things to consider:

  • How big is the team that will actually be working on your account day-2-day?
  • What is the composition of the team? Years of experience?
  • How long ago did they bolt on the service that you really need to accomplish your goals?
  • How flexible or bureaucratic are they in their processes and the way they work?
  • What are your interactions with these agencies like? What can you glean about their culture?
  • There is a difference between reports and reporting. How do they deliver insights?

I’m bias, but I like mid-size agencies. Especially those, like Augurian, who are purposed built and aren’t trying to be all things to everyone. As a matter of fact, if you run into a mid-size agency that says they can do it all – run in the opposite direction! The economics for mid-size agencies to “do it all” only work if they’re relying heavily on outsourcing the work that doesn’t fit their DNA.

Here are things that you get with a mid-size agency:

  • Flexibility: mid-size agencies can sync up better with internal teams, understanding what their capabilities are and then customizing their services and an engagement to provide the help where its most needed and where it will most benefit the client.
  • Expertise: mid-size agencies have people with experience doing the actual management of accounts. We are talking about subject matter experts who are staying on top of best practices. Because teams are generally smaller this allows for team members to share and brainstorm solutions across accounts.
  • Care: every client counts at a mid-size agency, so you’ll get the attention you deserve from all the stakeholders at all levels within the agency.

But don’t take my word for it. Jeff Rosenblum, Chief Strategy Officer at Questus and co-director of the documentary “The Naked Brand” said in AdAge, “After 20 years in the advertising industry, there’s one thing I can say with great certitude: small agencies crush big agencies. That’s right, I said it. In fact, it’s not even close.”


Now, more than ever, we’re seeing companies move away from the big ‘agency of record’ model, where one agency partner is responsible for absolutely every aspect of marketing execution. Companies are now beginning to manage multiple agency partnerships and are seeking agencies with expertise and specialization. They’ve realized that they want those amazing cultural creatives coming up with the branding and messaging BUT separately they want the data wonks doing the PPC, SEO, Analytics and Insights. By knowing what to look for in a digital marketing agency, they’re recognizing that they’ll get better results by pairing agency DNA and agency size with what they actually need to accomplish from a digital perspective.


Knowing what to look for in a digital marketing agency comes down to understanding their DNA and making sure you’re selecting the right size agency. This is mostly determined by what you’re trying to accomplish. So having very clear goals will make the selection process more efficient and effective. If you are interested in learning more about what a purpose built agency like Augurian could do for your company – please contact us.


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