How do I choose a Digital Agency?

Finding a digital agency for your charity website redesign, fundraising appeal, awareness campaign, or other digital initiative can be an exhausting process. It's not something you want to redo every couple of years. Below are 8 practical steps to finding the digital agency that's right for you.

You’re a charity Communications Officer, a Marketing Executive, or similar. Your Board and Senior Management or Leadership Team have approved the 3-5 year vision and your Chief Executive has been locked away for weeks producing a business plan. Your in-house marcomms resource has received a little investment, you!

Since you've been on board, you’ve upped the game with the organisational communications, picking low-hanging fruit and making a content plan to cover printed and digital communications, including your blog and social media feeds. You’re maintaining a level of traffic that you’re happy with using your social feeds and your Google Grant Adwords account to direct people to your website … BUT … Your site is not responsive (which has a negative impact on your SEO) so you’re seeing a decline in organic search traffic. Your site is unwieldy so you’re seeing high bounce rates and short time spent on site. Your calls to action are unclear and your conversion points are clunky at best, unusable at worst. You’re a charity relying on donations to support your work, yet users of your website can’t donate without using a third-party platform (which your finance team struggle to access reports from in a compatible format to their accounting software). You know you need a new website and have successfully stated your case to the Board for investment in this digital tool and the ongoing support required to maximise the impact of your new tool. Congratulations!

Woman writing on post-it notes and adding to a whiteboard.

Now what?

You’re going to be project managing the development of the new site, working with the Management Team to ensure that you’re building a site that delivers. You’ve outlined key reasons for the redevelopment project, you’ve put together a comprehensive brief covering your objectives for the website, your needs, and your wishlist in terms of functionality. The Board have agreed a budget for the project and you’re feeling the pressure of securing an agency to work with. An agency that you’re confident can deliver your project within your timeframe, and budget. How do you choose that agency? How many agencies should you invite to quote? What should you be looking for in response to your brief? How can you be confident that you’re choosing the right people for the job?

We’ve put together a checklist to help you when selecting a digital creative agency to work with.

  1. Recommendation.
    Maybe you've worked with creative agencies in the past, maybe your colleagues have had positive experiences too. Ask around. Speak with fellow charity comms professionals. Look up agencies who’ve designed / developed sites you admire. Use forums such as the Third Sector PR & Comms network on Facebook to ask for recommendations.
  2. Research.
    Check out client work on the websites of recommended agencies.
    You’re looking for outcomes.
    Have the agencies developed sites that deliver against the objectives set out by the business / charity? You’re also looking for a good fit with your organisation. Read their ‘about us’ and ‘team’ pages. You’ll have to work closely with these people for an extended period of time. Could these people become part of your team? Do you like them? Do you share values?
  3. List.
    Select five agencies to invite to quote on your project.
    Send your briefing document to your chosen agencies and invite them to put together a proposal by a specified deadline. Be sure to include the anticipated launch date, your budget, and the essential requirements, as well as items that may fall outside of your initial budget but that you would like to include in further developments. The proposals you receive should be comprehensive. You don’t want to be trawling through any more than five of these documents to see how each agency has responded to the specifics of your brief.
  4. Shortlist.
    Every agency you invite to make a proposal should have questions on your brief.
    In terms of getting to know the people you’d be working with, they score points if they follow up on your brief with a phone call to clarify areas that they want to deepen their understanding of before they put together a quote. Have they made an effort to try and get to know you and what you’re seeking to achieve? Do they view your website as a one-off project, or are they keen to support you in making further digital developments to support your marketing plans, campaigning, and fundraising / volunteering objectives? Again, keep in mind that you’ll be working closely with these people for an extended period of time. Shortlist 2-3 from your proposals who you’d be keen to meet in person or via video conference. This is a great point at which to request references and carry out your due diligence checks.
  5. Meet.
    Set up meetings with your shortlisted agencies.
    You’ll want key stakeholders in the site to be part of this meeting. If you’re a campaigning charity, you’ll want your Head of Campaigns and External Affairs to be present, a service delivery charity will need their Head of Services and Head of Income Generation or Fundraising to be present. Ask the agency to critique your existing site, being as honest as possible. You want to see if they identify any points that you’ve not picked up on internally. Following this element of the meeting, request that they walk you through their process, including any experience or learning they’ve gained that has relevance to your project or organisation. Include a conversational Q&A element whereby you can get to know each other. Can you see yourselves working intensively with them over an extended period of time?
    Have a couple of questions prepared, and expect that they have a couple of questions for you. As this is a significant investment, you are looking for them to be taking the lead, to be questioning your brief and your internal processes, so that you can trust that they’ll cover any items you may miss internally.
  6. Select.
    Following the meetings it’s ideal to take some time to reflect. Schedule a meeting after a day or so with the internal stakeholders who were present at the shortlist meetings.
    Have the proposals and notes taken in the meetings to hand and discuss key questions. Can they meet your brief technically, visually, and within your timeframe and budget? Do they align with your organisational values? Did they make an effort to get to know you, and to better understand what you’re looking to achieve? Can you see yourselves working intensively with them over an extended period of time?
  7. Feedback.
    As a courtesy, it can be helpful to provide some feedback to both your chosen agency, and to the unsuccessful agency(cies) on the shortlist.
  8. Kick-off.
    You have an agency who are chomping at the bit to get started on your project, a Board who are keen to start seeing the results from their investment, and a launch date in sight. Now it’s over to you and your digital agency to scope out the details of your new website, work towards that launch, and to work together to ensure that your new tool is working for you in the long term.

Do consider the level of ongoing input required to support your site, from a technical angle and from a further development perspective so that you can ensure it's a high-performing tool in your marcomms toolbox.