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Q: How do marketing firms charge for services?
A: Some agencies charge a straight hourly rate. Others charge by the project. Project fees tend to be higher because the invoices don’t reveal how much time was actually used to complete the project. Hourly rates are more transparent and easier to control, even if they are part of a monthly retainer.

Q: How much do marketing agencies charge per hour?
A: Hourly rates vary among different agencies. Typically, a mid-sized agency will charge from $150 per hour to about $225. Larger agencies on the east and west coats charge between $250 to $400 per hour, depending on who within their firm is performing the work. Some agencies charge a single blended rate, which keeps costs down. However, larger agencies that use blended rates often rely heavily on less expensive junior associates, who may not be as experienced as other professionals.

Q: What size retainers do agencies typically work with?
A: Some agencies that work with very small companies will offer retainers as little as $1,500. But at about $170 per hour, that will only get you about 9 hours of work per month. Medium accounts run from $3,500 to $6,500 for companies with 50 to 150 people. Larger companies require higher retainers that can differ widely based on need, product, industry and goals.

Q: Do marketing agencies send their work oversees to cut costs?
A: Some do, yes, and it’s not a god practice, because foreign contractors don’t know your brand, your message and or your audience. The best agencies keep most work inhouse, unless it’s a highly specialized need, such as graphic animation. Even this type of work should be overseen by your account rep throughout the entire process.

Q: Do all agencies require a monthly retainer?
A: No. Many firms do require a retainer, but others do not, especially for a one-off project. Even then, clients should require that all time worked on the project should be accounted for and billed appropriately and transparently.

Q: Can a marketing agency replace an inhouse marketing department?
A: Very often, yes. However, clients do need to appoint a point person inside the company who can coordinate activities, such as website updates, email blasts, social media and advertising. Too often those duties fall to a senior manager, who eventually prioritizes other needs over the marketing, and marketing activities slip away. Good candidates for inside coordinators include sales managers, HR managers, development directors, executive secretaries and business development people.

Q: How can I tell a good agency from a bad one?
A: At the end of the day, you’re hiring people to work for your company. Treat an agency search like a job interview. Do the people have experience in your industry, or related field? Do they understand your business? Would you hire them as employees? Ask for references, experience, then trust your gut. Most hiring decisions are based on instinct, rather than a resume.

Q: What’s the difference between a marketing agency and a marketing firm?
A: There is no difference. It’s pure semantics. We’re using the terms interchangeably for our own SEO purposes.