Normal is now different. The year 2020 has changed the way we travel…how we behave…and the way we work…. In the COVID economy, many companies have trimmed back marketing teams, reshuffled personnel to fill in, fired their agency, or stopped intentionally marketing altogether (what?!!).

To improve sales, companies without internal marketing support know they need to engage outside services on some level, but are reluctant. Fear of a financial commitment. Unfamiliarity with how to make the most from engaging an outside firm. Uncertainty about the ROI.

What if you could “try on” an agency and test the results?

Now is actually a good time to act. In this disruptive season, many top-talent agencies with large employee overheads have shifted to small agile teams of dedicated staff. Marketing shops of all sizes are taking on new project work in lieu of retainer clients. This is a unique window of opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs alike to test drive an agency without a steep ramp-up curve or long-term financial commitment.

Keep in mind you’re looking for a marketing partner who will be successful at the following:

  • Collaborate well with your team
  • Listen to your business objectives
  • Offer creative deliverables with measurable results
Here are 4 pathways to test drive an agency:

1. Outsource a simple communication deliverable

For a lot businesses right now internal communication is on steroids. Constant updates. Policy changes. Personnel shifts. Hiring an agency to execute a newsletter, branded emails or internal print piece is a low-risk way to get to know their best practices and access potential longer-term value.

You may be surprised by a creative spark they bring, and gain an outsource ally for future projects.

2. Engage a brainstorm session

If you have a new business initiative or project to launch, hire an agency to lead a brainstorming session with your team for a flat fee. Whether virtual or socially-distanced live, a focused consultation is a great way to learn if an agency has the strategic and creative chops for your ongoing marketing needs without locking into a contract.

Provide a clear outline product/service differentiators, competition and business objectives and then ask the agency to present a Go-to-Market strategy. A talented team will bring considerable value through such a session. You’ll see first-hand how they handle people, organize ideation and pinpoint a strategic direction. You can also assess how they mesh with your team’s chemistry.

Not every agency has the team or capabilities to pull this off. Many are strong on creative, but weak on analysis and strategy. So, if the session results fall flat, be gracious and move on.

3. Test a short-term, results-focused project

Engage your top-choice marketing firm in a short probationary trial with clear deliverables within your agreed budget. Online and email marketing initiatives provide the easiest metrics to measure success (like direct ROI). Be clear you’re expecting the agency to deliver on their promises.

Setting up agreement terms for a 2-4 month period allows a fair timeframe to test the synergy of your collaboration and track results. Most marketing firms will be glad for the opportunity — and your honesty.

4. Hire an agency to design within your brand

Many corporations today have established, trusted branding. Outsourcing a smaller project to an agency can reveal their creativity while adhering to your brand standards.

Start small. Ask the agency to design a sales sheet, PowerPoint presentation or other one-up project within brand. Be honest about your budget, even if it’s modest. Have an assessment method to accurately evaluate of how they performed.

  • Did they ask insightful questions?
  • Grasp the project objectives?
  • Bring creative options and add value?
  • Respect the brand guidelines?
  • Work well with your team?
  • Meet deadlines?
  • Miss or exceed expectations?

Surprisingly, Oncore’s engagement with our now-largest client started off with a simple sales sheet design within their corporate brand standards. Over time, we proved our business value on numerous projects and eventually were brought in to consult at the C-suite level. (The company just went public on NASDAQ with a market cap around $2.3b.) As a part of a five-year working relationship, our collective efforts won the Beverage Industry Package of the Year award in 2019.

Good things sometimes start out really small.

In the COVID-economy, finding the right-fit team to support your business goals is a win-win. Test-driving an agency is a great way to assess proof of value without a huge financial commitment.