Running a paid search agency, I get to see a fair amount of PPC RFPs on a monthly basis, some better than others.
But what makes a good RFP that will allow you to work out which agencies are great at sales and which ones can really deliver on your project?
Ask “How big is your agency?” & “What is your average client size?“
When it comes to the size of the agency and their average client size there are two main considerations:
A larger agency with more staff might be seen as a safe pair of hands, however you’re likely to work with a less experienced account manager unless you’re got a considerable media budget.
On the other end of the scale a smaller agency might be seen to be more risky, however you’re more likely to work with the owners or other senior staff with a lot of experience.
Asking about the average client size will allow you to work out where you will sit in the agency’s pecking order.
If the agency has an average client size of £1m and you spend £100k, the chances are you’re not going to get as much attention as an account spending £5m that might be in the agency’s top 10 accounts.
“What is your focus as an agency?“
Generally speaking most agencies are good at a single service, and then additional services might be outsourced or handled by a small team.
Here it’s key to ask what percentage of staff are dedicated to paid search and look for an agency that focuses in this area to get the best results.
Generally speaking you’ll be in the best hands at either a specialist paid search agency or a search agency (offering SEO and PPC) with a larger paid search team within it.
“Who will be in my accounts team?“
Understanding who is within your accounts team, and what their background is, is key. There are several questions that you might want to ask here to dig deeper:
- Where did they work before and what did they work on before that was similar?
- What was their role when working on their accounts? It’s fairly common for agencies to list that their employees previously worked on huge brands, when really they were just an account executive doing background admin, not the account director running the strategy and managing the client relationship.
- What is the culture like of the account team I will be working with and can we meet them? Ensure that you meet them as part of your pitch process to ensure that there is good chemistry.
- What is the team structure within the accounts team? Who does what and how much of each person’s time will I get? Most agencies use a model with an account director at the top, an account manager and a number of account executives and grads. You don’t want to find that you’ve got two incredibly overworked account directors and account managers and a bunch of grads that are learning on the job with your account.
- What is their account manager churn rate? You don’t want to be working with an accounts team that is changing every couple of months so look to work with an agency with a very low account manager / director churn rate.
- Do you outsource any work? It’s not unusual to have some freelancers working for large agencies but an agency that outsources account management is probably one to avoid.
Ask about similar work in the same vertical
There is the saying that past performance is an indicator of future performance which generally holds true in the paid search arena.
It is a good idea to ask your agency what percentage of their clients are in the same market as me? An agency that has experience in the same industry will understand the competitive marketplace and its challenges, and save you time training them up.
Ask who owns the commercial relationship and account data
We still run into FTSE100 accounts where the media agency owns both the data and the commercial relationship with the platform (Google, Bing, Yandex etc).
It’s fundamental for media buying transparency that you own the commercial relationship with the platform so you can see exactly how much you have spent and can account for every pound spent.
You should also look to negotiate your own credit terms with Google and other platforms and provided that you have a good credit and payment history you should be able to negotiate good terms.
Ensuring that you also own all of the data within your account that has been generated from campaign activity is important and you should ensure that this is a term within your contracts.
In a small 10,000 keyword paid search account there are around 38 billion different potential bidding combinations in a single day. Thats a lot of data and it’s only going to grow as Google adds more features, making automation ever more important.
You should ask your agency:
- What technology do you subscribe to?
- What proprietary technology do you have?
- Do you use open source technology like Adwords Scripts?
- Do you have in-house capability to build your own bespoke technology?
The best PPC agencies are likely to have access to their own proprietary technology that works on Google’s API to automate tasks like account builds, expansions and bidding.
They may also subscribe to software like DoubleClick manager, Marin, Adobe Media Optimiser for bid management and then other platforms for different requirements. For example they may subscribe to software like Adalysis or Optmyzr to split test at scale.
Good agencies should also be able to utilise the hundreds of open source Adwords scripts out there like Google’s TV bidding scheduler that allows you to increase brand bids when your TV ads are running.
Best-in-class agencies will have their own in-house technology departments that can build technology around clients requirements.