By: John Follis, President/CD, Follis Inc.

With so many great options on the marketing landscape has there ever been a better time to market a business or product? In fact, a recent CMO survey[1] reports that almost every industry anticipates “a hiring increase of marketers during the next year.” And yet, while there’s never been a better time, there’s also never been a more confusing time.

“New technologies are breeding all kinds of “experts” so clients don’t have an objective formula for figuring out who’s good and who’s not” says Joellyn (Joey) Sargent, an Atlanta  consultant who’s been on the hiring side as a Senior VP.

Adds Mark Cubine, Marketing VP of a Birmingham software company:

“Lots of people/companies can put on a good presentation and put forth a good proposal. But none of that means anything to me in terms of proving they are the right company to hire.”

Vancouver Strategist Jeff Swan agrees:

“Sometimes the greatest pitches can lead to a lower service level, while the truly talented simply don’t have the time or ability to put together a flashy pitch.”

I’ve seen many businesses owners and managers paralyzed by their confusion, fear and distrust of marketing and marketing people. These are owners and managers who desperately need marketing help, and know it, but don’t know how to move ahead with confidence.

“It’s like taking your car to a mechanic” says New York Marketing Director, Catherine Ortiz. “Sometimes you get great service and sometimes you get taken because you don’t completely understand the dynamics of how your car works.”

That thought is echoed by Ms. Sargent who says, “Finding the right fit can be a challenge, especially for someone who really doesn’t know marketing — which is why they need help.”

And, what about those who do understand marketing?

Christine Thompson, a Seattle consultant who’s held senior marketing roles at Apple, says: “Mid-level managers inside larger enterprises are required to procure services only from the pool available from the approved vendors, and that can prevent them from access to the very best talent.” Regarding smaller companies Thompson agrees with previous comments: “As for smaller firms, often the issue is that clients don’t really understand what the real problem is, and therefore the solutions they seek are ill-matched.”

Ultimately, a business owner or manager may never truly know the talents of a marketing resource until things begin. Yet, there are some simple steps that, if taken, will greatly improve the odds of beginning with the right one. Before, listing them, a quick comment on referrals: Referrals are a good, obvious way to go, but they should be considered nothing more than a good starting point if you want to find a truly good match. Here’s want to do next:

1) See and Love the Work. Invest some serious, undistracted time thoroughly reviewing the work. Do you love it?

2) Check Credentials and Experience. The professional pedigree and experience of the person, or people, handling your business can make all the difference. So, be sure you find a kick-ass bio on their website. Otherwise, look them up on LinkedIn.

3) Results. Ultimately, it comes down to this. On their website do they display great testimonials and case studies? A couple, or many? Do they talk about results?

4) Beware of The Hidden Agenda. Many marketing “experts’” expertise is limited to a niche, and sometimes a fairly narrow one. Unfortunately, that’s not always apparent. So, beware. They may be advising you to do something because it’s what they sell and not what’s in your company’s best interest.

5) How well do they market themselves? You’d assume that any marketing firm looking to help you would be awesome at marketing themselves. Not true. And, I’ve heard all the excuses, from “the shoemaker with no shoes” to “I’m just way too busy with my clients.” As Joan River’s says:  “Pa-leeeeeeze!” The very last thing you want to do is to hire a marketing firm that sucks at marketing themselves.

6) How’s their G-Cred? G-cred is what shows up when you Google them. It’s an easy and valuable litmus test.

7) Do they know Social Media? Talking about it is one thing. Find out how effectively they’re putting it to use. Do they have a great blog? Facebook Page? YouTube Channel? Do they Tweet? And, are they tweeting about the bar they’re drinking at, or something that reflects true marketing savvy?

8) Awards & Press. This one can be a bit controversial because while awards can be a great litmus test for some, for others, not so much. The argument is that few award shows factor in “results” as a winning criteria. Also, if an agency is doing lots of boasting about their awards, it might be a way of overcompensating for other major weaknesses. On the other hand, if someone has no awards, that’s not good eitherSo, seek a happy medium.

Press-worthy work is a good litmus test because great press can be a great, free, added benefit for you. So, find out if they’ve gotten any. If they have, are we talking the local Penny Saver, or The New York Times?

9) Are they a respected Thought Leader? The more respected they are within their industry the better the odds they’re good. Things to find out: Are they published in respected magazines and blogs? Have they written a book? Do they speak at respected venues? Have they been interviewed? Are they on Wikipedia?

10) Do they make it easy to work together? This is one you might not have considered. The fact is that investing in marketing help is a scary proposition for most business owners, especially first-timers. So, a smart marketing person or firm will be aware of that and have an easy way to start the process and test the waters.

11) Are they driven and passionate about their business?It’s one of the most important, yet most overlooked items on the list. If you’re passionate about your business you’ll want to work with someone equally passionate about theirs. Sometimes you can simply hear it in their voice or see it in their eyes. You can also tell by how they present themselves online. Is it inspired, or rudimentary? For more on this, see: “The Power of Passion.”

If someone scores well on all these they deserve a shot. You can test the waters with a project and take it from there. Hopefully, it’ll be the start of a long, beautiful relationship.

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John Follis, of Follis Inc, is a 25-year business owner and marketing exec profiled on Wikipedia. In ‘93, his previous agency, Follis/DeVito/Verdi was the second most awarded in New York. Follis campaigns have been featured in The New York TimesWall Street JournalUSATodayForbes, TimeThe Harvard Business Review and two college textbooks. John is also author of How to Attract and Excite Your Prospects. And, his innovative “Marketing Therapy” program helps businesses around the US achieve their marketing goals faster, smarter, and more cost-effectively.