Gone are the days when choosing a marketing communication agency was as simple as picking out the Yellow Pages and letting your fingers do the walking. All you had to do to distinguish the big boys from the rest was to look at the size of the advertisement that appeared in the Yellow Pages.  These days even with the help of Google, finding and then selecting the right agency can often be frustrating.  Given the super specialization of the marketing communication process, you will be hard pressed to find one single agency that can address all your marketing needs.
In short, the entire concept of a full service agency is often a misnomer to denote an agency that will service all your needs by pulling in other specialized units to handle a client requirement. The problem becomes even more compounded if you’re not a trained marketer or someone with a more generalized role like a business owner.  
More often than not if you are not careful, you might end up selecting the wrong agency for the right job or worse still the right agency for the wrong job! So whether you’re just a marketing intern on his first real job or a small business owner here are 6 tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of choosing the wrong agency.

Tip 1:  Be clear on what your spend objective is.
Are you trying to get a better SEO rank or are you trying to generate more customer leads for your business?  If it’s the former you might want to consider hiring an SEO specialist rather than a Digital marketing agency.
Is your objective to drive awareness or is your objective to drive experience? If it’s the former, it’s best to hire an advertising agency and if your objective is to drive product experience, its best to hire an experiential marketing agency.
Being clear of what you want your marketing dollars to deliver for you is the first step in ensuring that you begin the search for the right agency.
Tip 2: Be clear on the amount you will spend.
We would all love to hire the biggest, the most written about and the most awarded agency. Chances are they might not want to work on the small budget that you have got. Most agencies, at least the professional ones have a cut off client budget below which they will not handle an account. It makes business sense. Would you take on a customer if the customer was not profitable to you?
Align your expectations with the budget you have so that you don’t chase after a firm that has no intention of working with you. Be heartened, you may not be able to afford the biggest agency but that’s no reason not to work with the best!
Tip 3: Bigger is not always equal to Better!
Most business owners confuse bigger being equal to better. Not necessarily so. Bigger agencies have large staff counts and winning awards is part and parcel of a fiercely competitive industry practice among larger agencies. Smaller agencies are often too busy executing client campaigns to find the time that is required to intricately work on the award entries. Not to speak of the costs involved which at times could be a deterrent to a much smaller agency.
If you are a small business owner, you will probably be better off working with a smaller agency, someone who understands the pain points for running a small business himself!
Tip 4: It’s not how large your spend is, it’s how significant your spend is to your agency’s billing!
Many a times I have heard clients cry with astonishment at the way their business is treated by the agency. “But I spend $X dollars through him!” they say in a voice laced with emotive wonder, little knowing that their $X dollar spend is not significant enough in terms of a percentage for the agency.
Knowing how large or small your spend is in relation to the agency’s overall business can play an important part for the small business owner. It can ensure that the agency personnel treat your business carefully and with respect and will also help you in the invariable negotiations that will happen on the price!
Tip 5: Don’t buy the sizzle. Test the meat underneath.
So you’ve had this wonderful meeting with the agency directors. The power point presentations floored you as did the smooth confident tones. You finally figure out that you have the right agency on board. Someone with the brains and the knowledge and the confidence to help your business grow with the right marketing input.
Think again!  Find out who is the guy that’s going to be seeing your face on a regular basis. It’s most likely not going to be the director who sold you the sizzle. The meat’s the regular account executive or manager that’s going to do the grunt work that’s going to make the directors a bit richer and you a bit wiser.
After the sizzle talk, politely ask to meet with the actual team or guy that’s going to service you. See how comfortable you are with his knowledge. It’s ok if the poor guy is not as knowledgeable as his boss. If he was, he would probably be running his own agency. Ask the agency owners how frequently they would be reviewing the account and how frequently they would be meeting you to review the business. This will help you streamline all operational matters from the word go.
Tip 6: Compare. Compare. Compare.
If you’re hiring an agency for the first time or a new service for the first time follow the golden rule of comparing agencies. Check their portfolio’s, their quotations, their client lists and more importantly ask them what percentage of clients gave them repeat business and the longevity of their clients. Good agencies work on repeat businesses from long term clients. Bad agencies do a lot of business development.