We’ve worked in large agencies, in-house marketing divisions, and startups before starting G+T Creative, and we’ve sometimes had to hire other vendors or agency partners throughout our careers. With these experiences on both sides of the line in mind, we’ve compiled a brief guide to choosing the food and beverage marketing agency that’s right for you.
So you’ve done your Googling, trawled LinkedIn, and gathered recommendations from colleagues past and present. You now have a handful of agency partners to explore. When vetting agencies beyond basic capabilities and retainer requirements, we recommend focusing on a few key areas:
Industry experience: Direct industry experience certainly isn’t a necessity when choosing a marketing agency, but it helps to have a team behind you that actually understands food and beverage—that knows how to make a stand-out sell sheet, when the next big trade show is happening, and which consumer trends are picking up or slowing down. Simply being able to communicate in the jargon of SKUs and C&U is a big asset for getting down to business quickly.
Strategic thinking: Before you hire them, your agency should be able to voice your challenges back to you, and deliver a clear and cogent plan for how they plan to meet them. That doesn’t mean they should dive into work before getting paid—but they should present a concise roadmap showing how they plan to strategically meet your goals.
Personal connection: Have you ever noticed that in a marketing meeting, everyone perks up when you get to showing creative? That’s because creative really is the fun part! So while we want to drive results through marketing, we also want to make the process enjoyable. Make sure that your agency partner is someone you can communicate with clearly, brainstorm with, send random interesting articles to, and just chat about business and life with. While we certainly don’t recommend basing your decision off of charm alone, the fact is that personal connection is a large factor of hiring (agency or otherwise), and that’s not a bad thing.
Just as there are certain positives you should look for, there are also a number of common red flags to watch out for when choosing a food & beverage marketing agency.
They promise overnight success: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Success takes time to build—so if someone promises to get you a top-tier press hit or double your social following by 12pm tomorrow, be wary.
The ol’ bait and switch: So you get the razzle dazzle about the breadth and experience of the agency team—only to find that, a few months down the line, you never even talk to the people who pitched you! This is common practice among agencies, especially larger ones. Having a dedicated account executive “running your account” can be fine, but make sure that you know ahead of time who you’ll be working with day-to-day, and that you’re excited to work with them.
They’re vague about deliverables and timing: Make sure your agency is crystal clear about what they’ll be delivering, and when. For example, say they’re creating a style guide. Does that just include a graphic style? Or does it also include messaging? What about photography? Branding and marketing deliverables can mean very different things to different people, so make sure you’ve set expectations and a timeline, including rounds of revision.
Side note: it’s not always clear when an agency is making strategic suggestions based on their experience, or upselling you on unnecessary services. An agency should recognize what you’re already doing successfully and what you have to build off. Any agency that tries to tear your whole house down and start from scratch should be examined closely (unless, of course, that’s what you’ve asked for!).
It’s easy to miss these if you haven’t hired an agency yourself before, so when in doubt, ask questions! Any agency worth their salt should be able to give you a clear and honest answer.
The great thing about working with an agency is that they can bring experience and ideas from working with multiple clients. For example, they might have done an influencer campaign with one brand that was particularly effective, or run a paid social campaign using certain targeting or a creative approach that yielded great results—tactics they can then bring to you. Or they can consolidate multiple clients into an appealing PR pitch to help build great relationships with journalists. All of these efficiencies are beneficial to you as a client. For any company, marketing comes down to the continuous creation of new ideas, and agencies are well positioned to do just that, especially when informed by knowledge of your industry.
When choosing an agency, a lot of food & beverage brands don’t think about the stage that the agency itself is at in its lifecycle. If you’re an emerging brand, or you’re trying to build an innovative brand within an established company, you’ll want to hire an agency that shares this entrepreneurial spirit. More established agencies may offer a steady track record, but they don’t necessarily relate to your challenges as a founder or mid-sized business. You want your agency to bring positivity and enthusiasm, and really feel like they’re on your team—not that they’re just doing “works for hire.” They should be ready to dig in and treat your success like their own, not just another project code on their timesheet. (Side note: we hate timesheets. Ask us why sometime.)
There are pros and cons of both approaches, and the right answer comes down to your team and company culture.
We believe that outsourcing marketing to an agency like ours comes with great benefits in this day and age, as we’re able to apply very specific experience and expertise in marketing strategy, design, and copywriting—things that you’re not likely to find in one, or even two or three, full-time hires. But it’s not the solution for everyone. Some companies really do need people in the room to respond to requests on the fly or to soak up information shared incidentally at meetings. This really depends on how your company is set up, how much lead time you can realistically give for creative and marketing requests (i.e. not “I need this yesterday”) and, frankly, how good you are about answering emails.
You may find that a combination of in-house hires and an agency partner yields the best results for your needs. For instance, you may hire a mid-level marketing manager to handle your social media and day-to-day marketing communications, while your agency handles bigger creative projects or specific marketing services like PR, events, content marketing, and ad campaigns.
This is a great question–and one you shouldn’t be afraid to ask! Branding agencies typically specialize in creating a company’s initial brand identity–their logo, look and feel, tagline, tone of voice, and sometimes even their name. Their work stops when the brand is complete.Marketing agencies typically pick up where these agencies leave off: taking the brand and creating a go-to-market strategy and then executing the tactics, such as social media, digital marketing, and more. Some agencies, like G+T Creative, do both. Since we’re highly focused on food & beverage and food tech companies, we’re able to apply all of our creative expertise (along with our industry knowledge) to creative cohesive branding and marketing.