5 Questions to Ask a Digital Ad Agency (Free Printable Checklist)

"Ren, I don't know what any of it means."

One of my clients called me last December, utterly confused. She was excited about the potential of a Very Fancy New SEO Lead Generating Campaign, but didn't know where or how the campaign would be conducted. A big-city digital ad agency representative pitched the Campaign over lunch, and my client was presented a package and contract to double her business in 90 days. In a 45 minute lunch, she had heard terms she didn't know, coupled with promises and guarantees. The rep seemed nice, so she had said yes and signed a contract.

It wasn't a catastrophe, but it was a decision made without all the facts. She was a business owner, not a marketing expert, and she didn't understand what questions to ask before saying yes. And worse, she was locked into a 6 month, nearly $1,000 per month contract.

The Fancy New SEO Lead Generating Campaign didn’t lead to any increase in revenue, and after her six month contract, my client was eager to discontinue the campaign.

Sound familiar? I've encountered dozens of small business owners who were wooed and burned by digital agencies, making flashy presentations and big promises. But before you're seduced and sign a contract, here are Five Questions To Ask a Digital Ad Agency.

1. How does this campaign support my business' goals?

Advertising agencies are marketers, so it's no surprise that often their pitches include headlines and blanket promises: "We'll increase your website traffic by 10 percent!" "We'll get you more likes on Facebook in 30 days for just $250!" "We'll serve your advertisement to 10,000 people on Google!" "We'll get you 500 leads a month!"

Look past the headline and get to the heart of the objective of the campaign. How does increasing my website traffic increase sales for my HVAC business? How does managing my Facebook page sell more products? If the ad rep in front of you can't connect the dots, specifically, on how a proposed digital marketing campaign impacts business' bottom line, then they don't care about you or your business, they're interested in a check. And if they don't care about you, in person, trying to close a sale? They won't care about you or your business six months into a contract.

2. Are the proposed marketing campaign's goals SMART?

Wait, what is SEO again? Digital marketing campaigns can be incredibly complicated, with a lot of moving parts that you might not understand. And you know what? That's OK! But the goals of any marketing effort created by a third party should be easy for you to understand and SMART. SMART Goals are Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based. A campaign should:

Strategically align with your business' mission
Measured easily for success with pre-determined key performance indicators
Attainable in scope and scale based on resources invested
Realistic in expectations for outcomes from a campaign
Time-based and evaluated at the conclusion of a pre-determined period

Go through each element of a SMART goal with a sales rep. How does this campaign align with a particular sales goal with my business? How will results of the campaign be measured? Have results been attained in similar campaigns conducted by your agency? Per industry standards, are our goals for this campaign realistic? When will we regroup to discuss the effectiveness of this campaign and its return on investment?

3. How will we track leads or product sales from your agency's efforts?

Once you start working with an ad agency, there can be a bit of a phantom success effect. Every new client, every extra phone call, every new sale can feel like it's from The Fancy New Campaign by Fancy Agency. But research shows us that customers have to hear a message eight times before they'll make a purchase. So adding a spoke to the wheel with a new digital marketing can make an impact and generate new sales, absolutely, but you may have been seeding the ground. Don't attribute the harvest to a fancy new campaign.

Instead, ask specifically what steps will be taken to track all sales connected to an agency's campaign. You should be able to view landing page traffic information from a trackable URL or have a tracking phone number set up for specific calls. You should be able to see a tally of results from a specific effort. Combined with your own sales numbers, this creates the formula that you'll use to determine your return on investment. But without tracking those leads, you're lost, and the agency just keeps showing you how pretty the ads are. Pretty ads don't keep the lights on, sales do.

4. How will campaign data be made available to me?

Let's be frank: there are smoke and mirror businesses in every industry, but the illusion is thick with digital advertising companies. Agencies and sales rep depend on your ignorance and disinterest in examining the results of a digital ad campaign, so they can continue billing for campaigns that aren't working. Make it known before you sign a contract that you have a set and clear expectation that results be shared with you at least once every 30 days. Lead names and email addresses should be made available within an Excel spreadsheet; Facebook Ads Manager dashboard screenshots should be made available to you. If they're not willing to be transparent with how they're spending your money with ads, they are not a good ad agency. Get up and leave, or they will take your money.

Let’s be frank: there are smoke and mirror businesses in every industry, but the illusion is thick with digital advertising companies.


5. How will we refresh the campaign after 90 days?

This is the biggest question. For most ad agencies, they'll set a campaign and let it run for six months, maybe a year, billing you monthly, without doing any additional work. But the power of the Internet allows agencies to easily monitor the effectiveness of a campaign in real time. Ask -- no, demand that there be a formal review of the campaign's results after 90 days. At that time, you as a business owner should be able to see all of the campaign's impact to determine your return on investment, as well as discussing ways to refresh the creative to better impact next quarter's sales goals. Don't allow your agency to be lazy -- put a bit of pressure on them to be constantly lowering the cost per click or increasing the reach of a particular campaign. That's what they're paid to do.

Bottom line: I don't hate Big City Fancy Advertising Agencies. I think some of them are leading the industry in best practices, and their work can be transformative for a struggling business. Checkmate Consulting is working in partnership with two agencies for two Checkmate clients today to better serve their customers. But be an advocate for your business' marketing budget, ensuring that any campaign is making a difference to your bottom line. Don't be taken out to lunch and then taken for a ride for six months because you didn't ask some basic questions before saying yes.

If you're looking for a transparent digital marketing agency that will fight for your business' goals, we're here to help transform your business or partner with your current agencies as a consultant. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. 

Making Mary with Top Tomato

John and Marina Backes at Circle B Ranch have been Checkmate clients for nearly two years. Here at Checkmate, we're obsessed with their Berkshire pork products, including pork chops, bacon, hickory smoked hams and small batch sauces that go with everything. So it's easy for us to help meet their marketing needs.

For nearly two years, we've helped develop Circle B Ranch's social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Sales from their website, circlebranchpork.com, have gone up every year since we've joined their team. But John and Marina were looking for a standout product. Then, Marina came up with something special: Top Tomato Cocktail Mix.

We were hooked on the first sip.

So when Marina asked us to develop a product launch website just for Top Tomato Cocktail Mix, we jumped at the chance to help promote this incredible cocktail mix.

Marina wanted her website to be easy to navigate, mobile-friendly and feature copy that was sassy to match her brand.  We had a lot of fun developing out this scroll through design, featuring bold call to action buttons, high-quality product shots provided by Checkmate Consulting and conversion opportunities back to the Circle B Ranch main page.

And instead of reinventing the wheel, we used the currently in place ecommerce engine through Circle B Ranch's main site to drive online sales. This made online executing and tracking online purchases easy for Marina on the back end and familiar to Circle B Ranch customers on the front end.

We're proud of not only our finished project, but also the speed in which it was executed. This web development project, from initial conversation to launch date, took less than 45 days. 

Here's to another successful Checkmate Consulting website.

A (nearly) finished project

It's been a busy summer.

After returning from Italy, Greece and Turkey in May, I dove right into the biggest web development project Checkmate has conquered to date. In June, I shared with you the three big goals for this project: websites would feature a conversational tone, skimmable, engaging content and multiple conversion opportunities, including big, splashy contact us forms, automatically generated email responses and bios for staff members. 

On June 17, I presented a mock-up to the dean of technical education. With his enthusiastic approval, I embarked on a 200-hour project to execute his vision to better market these incredible programs and support the school's mission of providing quality technical education for local students.

And on Aug. 23, the last of these 21 department websites went live.

In the three weeks since its sitewide launch on OTC's first day of the fall semester, Checkmate has received numerous pieces of positive feedback on the functionality of the new department landing pages. Plus, in the first week alone, the technical education division received numerous emails from the contact forms on department pages from stakeholders and students seeking information during off-hours and online. 

But with any project that large, there are a last few tweaks and edits to make. Small line edits that were missed during proofing, reviewing the institution's style guide to ensure that web copy is consistent with brand standards and two minor, simple appearance changes to two department landing pages -- all work yet to be done. But it's work that we're excited to continue until this project will be exactly where and how the client wants it to look.

From pitch to implementation, we're more than six months into this major project at Checkmate Consulting. But we are so excited to be able to continue on this journey to excellence for OTC, a commitment we make for every brand to take them further.

The Tale of the Snail

For brands on social media, there’s always a balance between sales and social.

You want to make personal connections with your followers, but you want to have them connect with products. You want to build communities, but you want your communities to be mobilized. You want a return on investment, but you don’t want to alienate your followers by pushing your products over and over again.

That’s why it’s so important to have a social media strategy that has a good mix of content featuring hard, soft and no-sales language at all. Consider it fluff, but it should never be considered filler. Content that engages with your followers authentically with no salesmanship, while speaking to the mission of your brand, can be a fun way to engage with your followers and build brand awareness. They’ll like and share your content without even realizing it’s a billboard for your brand’s logo and mission.

This concept, though, is so hard for some digital marketers to understand. If there aren’t clicks, if there aren’t sales, if there’s not a point of conversion, they feel the content is a missed opportunity at best and a waste of time at worst. But the next time I get into this ongoing debate with a digital marketing friend, I’ll have a secret weapon: a snail.

At Checkmate Consulting, I began managing Diet Center Cincinnati‘s Facebook page less than two months ago. The page’s presence was small: it only had 110 likes at the time of posting this graphic on Jan. 6. But although its presence was tiny, my goals for the brand on social were big. My No. 1 goal in my first 90 days was to help legitimize this brand in its local community, where weight loss center claims and services are automatically met with skepticism, and to increase brand awareness dramatically.

So, the first week of 2016, I made the above graphic in Canva (a handy tool) based on a suggestion by my client. She had seen a version of this graphic above online somewhere and thought it would be cute to post on Diet Center’s Facebook page. I created the above graphic and posted it on Facebook with this caption:

“We believe in you. Do you? #winatlosing”

The caption was short, the message was simple, and it got a response from Diet Center’s small but engaged community on Facebook. So, a couple of days later, I boosted the post for $25 and 14 days.

And the engagement started pouring in.

Hundreds of likes were made to the post, and people started commenting on the post as well bits of encouragement about their own slow but steady journeys to success. But most valuable, the post in 14 days received 73 shares and counting — with 52 shares originating from unpaid views of the post. Individuals who had never heard of Diet Center were sharing our content that shared Diet Center’s mission: that wellness in achievable, if you just keep trying.

By spending 10 minutes creating a clever graphic and $25 to promote this post to Diet Center’s target audience, more than 18,000 people in the Cincinnati, Ohio community ended up seeing this graphic that featured Diet Center’s logo and hashtag.

There wasn’t a conversion page, there wasn’t a sign up form, but we had more than 100 profile views while this post was being boosted. We received more than 20 page likes from this post (a 22 percent increase) and every person who shared this post was in Diet Center’s target demographic: Cincinnati area women, ages 25-60.

But most importantly, Diet Center in all of those eyes was seen as a brand that cares about people and their progress. Telling the story of a brand and making real, authentic connections with people makes turns them from followers to fans. And bottom line, for my sales-minded friends? Fans buy products, and if they receive a positive experience from a product, they become ambassadors for a brand.

Oh, and one last thing: One person who saw this snail messaged the Facebook page to get in touch with a representative — and ended up registering for a diet plan at the Center.

There’s a time and place for a snail for every brand on social media. What’s your snail content?


Building better websites

For the last two years, we've been providing the highest caliber of content and customer service for our customers at Checkmate Consulting. We've been tweeting, posting, liking and sharing, while building brand awareness and creating authentic, engaged communities for our customers.

It's been an exciting journey so far, and we're thrilled to announce the next step in our journey to being a full-service digital marketing agency.

As of March 1, we'll BEGIN OFFERING Website Design and Maintenance SERVICES.

But we didn't intend to go down this road as a company. In January, Mike Luebbering Construction contacted us to design, build and implement a simple, functional website for the family-owned construction company. We were tasked to tell their story simply and completely in two weeks.

Mike Luebbering Construction tasked us with building a website for the family-owned construction company. We did it -- and we did it in a week.

Mike Luebbering Construction tasked us with building a website for the family-owned construction company. We did it -- and we did it in a week.

Our team of digital communications experts with years of website development and creation experience built MikeLuebberingConstruction.com in less than week, tweaking and teasing out content on appropriate channels and testing our content before its launch today. And in less than 24 hours, Checkmate Consulting is happy to report that nearly 150 unique visitors have stopped by MikeLuebberingConstruction.com.

We're excited to be offering Website Design and Maintenance services for current and new Checkmate Consulting customers, who know the importance of a digital presence for their business and brand identity. But it's important to note that we are not web developers; we aren't creating a website from scratch. For our customers, we will be utilizing tried-and-true website management and online content management systems to create fully functional websites. We don't do the coding, we just provide the content and help you tell your story.

And your brand's story needs to be told.

3 Great Ways To Use An Event Hashtag

We live in a social world … a social media world, at least. When you’re out and about at events even in my small(ish) Midwestern city, you’ll see hashtags everywhere. They’ll prompt you on signs; they’ll be on the wall as Twitter feeds. They’ll be ever present on promotional materials and fliers; they’ll dominate the digital conversation. But how do you use them appropriately? Here’s a short guide to using hashtags while you out at events, just in time for all those corporate holiday parties.

1. Use The Hashtag!

It may seem obvious, but in order to increase your reach and be heard during an event’s digital conversation and life, you’ve got to use the hashtag. It’s always best to end a tweet or Facebook post with a hashtag so it doesn’t distract from your content, but always include them. By using an event’s hashtag, you’ll gain more followers and be able to engage with other attendees during and after the event. From your personal accounts, it’s a great way to network at conferences. You’ll never know who will start following you as a result of a simple 140-character observation. Note: Event hashtags can be used across all platforms, but attendees can best utilize them to encourage engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

2. Share Photos With The Hashtag

Tweets with images result in a 36 percent increase in clicks, a 31 percent increase in visits to your profile, a 41 increase in retweets and a 48 increase in favorites, according to a recent social media article by Fast Company. If there’s a keynote speaker presenting or you’re taking a selfie at a vendor booth, take a photo and write a short caption. Pictures really are worth a thousand words, and it’s important to take interesting, engaging photographs that are relevant to an event. Just post it to Instagram, and share it across your other linked platforms. A great one to do? Photos of the event’s opening or closing. Social media managers will be looking for content during those quiet times and are more likely to engage with you from the event’s brand.

3. Engage With The Hashtag

Once you’ve tweeted that quote from a presenter or shared a photo, click on the hashtag and start scrolling. Begin retweeting and/or favoriting interesting or noteworthy tweets or posts from other attendees using the hashtag. It doesn’t have to be a science – just something that catches your attention is all that’s necessary to engage in a digital conversation. Plus, your followers will know that you’re out and about learning things about an industry or organization with your sudden influx of content about a particular subject, which makes you a more relevant content creator and curator.