How to Screen a Digital Marketing Consultant

I frequently encounter the grim consequences companies face after selecting the wrong digital marketing consultant. The symptoms are usually quite apparent: too much money sunk into a website that’s been left to float rank-less in cyberspace with not a session in sight, neglected advertising campaigns auto-piloted by a bot somewhere in silicon valley, and by the time I enter the picture the complaint is almost always that the company is seeing negative returns on their overall digital marketing services.

In an effort to help I’ve developed the checklist below that you can use to screen any digital marketing consultants that may cross your path.

  1. Look for a Specialist

    • I recommend hiring a collection of carefully screened specialists as opposed to signing up for ‘bundled’ digital marketing services from big agencies. Specialists don’t have the overhead large agencies do and can therefore keep their costs low. They also have a tendency to stay ahead of the curve because they know that’s the only thing that truly sets them apart from the competition. Although there are some bad apples out there specialists tend to be lean, flexible and ahead-of-the-curve and that’s exactly the kind of energy you want to harness to progress your company forward.
    • Before you begin your search understand what kind of specialist you need to meet your goals. Do you need help with branding? Do you need SEO to bring organic traffic through to your site? Perhaps your advertising campaigns haven’t seen a conversion in what feels like a lifetime and you need the expertise of a PPC specialist? Each of the problems I’ve outlined above should be solved by an individual specialist with a heavily focused skill set. Familiarize yourself with the specific services that comprise ‘Digital Marketing’ and outline where you need to start to most benefit your business. You can always add specialists down the road who can grow subsequent marketing channels.
  2. Look for the Necessary Certifications

    • Once you know what kind of specialist you need, try to get a sense of what certifications they should have. Mostly, you’re looking to see that they’re certified by the platforms they’ll be working on. For example, if you hire a Facebook Advertising specialist, make sure they’ve completed their Facebook BluePrint Certification, if they’ll be managing your Google accounts (adwords, analytics etc.) look to make sure they have their Google Partners Certification. Most platforms have a certification program like this you can look for.
  3. Experience over Education

    • Apart from the certifications above which should indicate an expert-level knowledge of the platforms they work with on a daily basis, I actually recommend valuing experience over education. These days everyone has a BBA/MBA but Digital Marketing is a newer industry and the tools are not only new but they’re also technical and they change rapidly. If you’re hunting for a specialist and you’re stuck between two candidates choose the one that hands you a case study with the positive ROI they were able to achieve for past clients over the candidate who hands you their degree.
  4. Ask for Case Studies

    • As I’ve hinted at in point #3, this is a no-brainer. Any qualified specialist should be able to hand over case studies outlining how their work has directly delivered positive returns for past clients. If they can’t do so, move on.
  5. Beware Social Media ‘Big-Shots’

    •  I put this one at the bottom of the list because chances are if you’ve followed steps 1-4 you’ll have filtered out all the sales-talkers. They usually pump aggressive sales videos out on social media featuring a lot of planes, cars and suits. They’re also notorious for making promises they can’t keep. On the off-chance that one slipped through and you’re about to be charmed by their sweet talk please keep in mind that they talk incessantly because digital marketing isn’t what they do, talking is what they do. If they stop talking, they stop delivering the only skill they have to market. And so they prattle on. Don’t fall for it and don’t underestimate the damage a bad digital marketing consultant or agency can do. I have a separate post on this here if you care to read about the other red flags I encourage everyone to be aware of.
  6. Manage Expectations

    • Once you’ve selected a Digital Marketing Consultant to work with, it’s important to know what reasonable expectations are. I recommend checking multiple sources but from my experience 2-3 months is a solid amount of time to reasonably expect improved performance. It’s not going to be an over-night job but it’s also not going to take 6 months to a year as many consultants/agencies would have you think (usually while they ask you to sign a nice long-term contract).


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