How Businesses Choose Marketing and Advertising Agencies

When you’re a small- or mid-size business (SMB), the decision to hand your marketing over to an advertising agency is a major one. Driven by the underlying question of whether an agency will make the best use of a hard-earned marketing budget to generate the highest ROI, SMBs choose agencies using information from many different sources. But, which of these sources carries the most weight in making a final advertising agency selection?

Valpak® recently conducted a survey of 1,010 U.S. SMB owners to reveal factors that influenced their decisions to work with professional marketing and advertising agencies and what mattered most when working with ad agency representatives.1

The businesses surveyed were from a variety of high- and low-ticket business categories, including restaurants, home and garden, and retail. The respondents had been operating at least 3 years and employed between 5 and 99 people.

Search and Discovery Triggers

While actively considering hiring an agency, certain triggers spur SMBs to obtain more information about marketing and advertising agencies:

  • 38%: Social media platforms—especially Facebook and LinkedIn
  • 38%: Internet browsing
  • 38%: Keyword search
  • 34%: Direct email messaging and internet display ads

Interestingly, word-of-mouth or referrals (28%) and in-person agency rep visits (17%) ranked relatively low as triggers to investigate an agency further.

Mighty Influencers

Once an SMB decides to investigate an agency, they begin digging for more information from other sources.

The top source SMBs consult to learn more about an agency is their website (58%). (As a matter of fact, the absence of an agency website was the second most important reason SMBs would not choose an agency.) Online keyword search (56%) was next, followed by social media (49%), and online rating and review sites like Yelp (41%).

Loyalty Over Innovation

Longevity is key. How long an agency has been in business (46%) and how long they keep their clients (39%) were top pieces of information businesses wanted to know while assessing an agency. Being able to hear or read client testimonials (41%) and the agency’s ability to accurately and consistently measure and report performance (37%) came in ahead of innovation and competition (30%).

No Way, Jose

Maintaining a positive reputation in the community is a top factor SMBs consider when evaluating agencies for marketing and advertising services. Negative online reviews, or poor word-of-mouth are considered deal breakers by 38% of responders. No website? No contract. And if the social downlow on an agency is down low, 34% of SMBs won’t reach out.

Email Me, Maybe?

Corresponding with changing culture, SMBs prefer to be contacted via email or text as opposed to in-person visits and representatives are getting the message, sending email (40%) or text (26%) once a week or more to their clients.

You Scratch My Back…

When 97% of consumers read online reviews and 85% of those trust them, receiving positive reviews from customers is a really big deal.2 Fortunately, 38% of business owners understand the value of reviews, whether online or in-person, equally posting online and personally telling others about their experiences with marketing and advertising agencies.

Put on Your Agency Face

How an ad-agency representative represents him or herself is an important factor influencing whom an SMB chooses as its marketing partner. A representative’s personality traits can magnetize or repel potential business, even after the agency has passed through the other evaluation filters. In order of priority, the traits respondents preferred most were:

  1. Honesty
  2. Professionalism
  3. Reliability
  4. Experience
  5. Intelligence

SMBs research not just an agency, but also their rep. More than 50% use a general online search to find out more about a rep’s rep. Facebook follows closely behind at 49%.

The Human Factor

Choosing a marketing and advertising agency is an important decision for any company. A deep well of information at our fingertips, the internet has forever changed the way we make many of our decisions, including whom we date, how we learn, where our money goes and how we choose business partners. In the end, however, it all comes down to how we present ourselves as human beings. Honesty, professionalism, and reliability are all character traits that technology cannot affect.





12017 SMB Survey, 3rd Quarter, Valpak Direct Marketing Systems®, Thrive Analytics®.

2Forbes, “20 Online Reputation Statistics That Every Business Owner Needs To Know,” September 2017.