Working out the objectives of your marketing needs to be done early on. “Make sure you are not doing it just because someone else has told you that you should,” says Louise Stewart-Muir at Stewart–Muir Communications. Increased sales, share price or a better reputation with your target audience are all objectives whose success can be measured through figures and research. “Raising awareness” and “coverage in the national press” are not business objectives – they are part of the process. “You need to ask yourself where you are, and where you see yourself going in three to five years,” says Guy Woodcock, CEO of integrated communications consultancy Montpellier Marketing Communications. “What are the obstacles on the way? Your agency needs to know if they are looking at a sprint or a marathon.”

At PR consultancy giant Weber Shandwick, director Dawn James adds: “You need to be prepared for success. More than one small business has been so deluged with orders after a national PR programme that they have gone under.” Fees You also need to give serious thought from the outset as to what your budget is – what you are able to and prepared to commit to spending. There are no set costs for any type of marketing – it will depend on the work. There are two main ways of paying for agency services; through a retainer or a project fee. A retainer is a monthly fee paid for the duration of the contract you agree. Project fees apply to one-off jobs, or a series of separate, defined jobs. However, the way in which the cost of both is worked out is the same. Nearly all agencies charge fees based on the time dedicated to your programme by each of the people on the team, who will have their own rate-per-hour according to their seniority and level of expertise. The billing is transparent: you will receive a monthly log of who has done what and how long it took, and this translates directly into the fee which you will pay. After fees come expenses such as telephone, fax, email, which are normally paid for by a standard rate of around nine per cent of fees. Items such as website design, brochures, photography, and printing are charged to the client at cost plus a “mark-up”. This can be anything between ten and 20 per cent of their cost. The mark-up is to cover the time and effort taken by the agency to manage these types of services. Clients are technically free to find, brief and hire their own suppliers in these areas for their agency to work with, but the mark-up covers the convenience of someone doing all the running around and co-ordination for you. The brief After you have decided on your budget and objectives, the next stage is to write an outline brief, which explains these objectives, gives background information about the company and where it fits in the marketplace, the timescale you have in mind, and an indication of the budget. Joy le Fevre, who runs Le Fevre Communications, adds: “It’s important that you establish who at the client end is going to manage the agency relationship. Consultancies are only as good as their people and their client contacts.”

Once your brief is written, start gathering credentials from a long list of around ten companies. Credentials can be the agency’s brochure or website, or a brief presentation of the consultancy’s capabilities, perhaps meeting at their offices.