20 Marketing Executives Weigh in on What They Look for in a Marketing Partner

Becoming a marketing partner for a company is more than just a numbers game, as 20 prominent marketing executives recently sat down and confirmed for us. Vizion Interactive’s marketing team asked what top execs looked for in a marketing partner, how often they outsource marketing, and what type of reporting they look for the most. The answers we received were enlightening. Look at what 20 marketing execs had to say about hiring the perfect marketing partner:

What Do You Look for in a Marketing Partner?

Although each company has different priorities when hiring an outsourced marketing partner, many look for the same or similar qualities in their ideal fit. When asked what they want from strategic marketing or advertising partners, different company executives had different insights. Reviewing their answers gives a window into their thought processes and desires when shopping for a marketing agency:

Constantine Costopoulos, product technical manager at Discovery Channel: “Passion, honesty, integrity, flexibility, and adaptability. Someone who is up to date with current technologies, who understands a client and the target audience as a person, as opposed to numbers. They aren’t afraid of taking risks or failing.”

Joy Altimare, chief engagement and brand officer at EHE: “A track record of success they’ve achieved for clients, the ability to be great storytellers, and initial impressions. I am very cognizant of how potential strategic partners represent themselves. Everyone from the receptionist to the senior partner should represent the company’s brand and its value.”

Tom Garrett, president at Union Hill Travel: “I look for something I don’t have — a skill I don’t have on my internal team. The most valuable thing an agency can bring me is smart, relevant thinking. Understand my business, my competitive environment, and my customer. Then, bring me fully fleshed-out campaigns that are designed to deliver meaningful and measurable results.”

Emily Frye, director of brand marketing & communications for Taco Bueno Restaurants, L.P.: “It may sound morbid, but the best agency partner should be able to sit in your seat, should you get hit by a bus. Your agency should be as ingrained in your business as you are. There’s also the culture and chemistry fit. Making sure the agency team’s values align with yours, beyond skill sets and pricing in the RFP.”

Derek Hines, internet marketing specialist at West Coast Self-Storage: “The ability to be transparent about the bottom line results they are providing. We want to know that our hiring an outside firm instead of doing the work ourselves results in a better ROI. We also want weekly analyses that are thorough enough to uncover significant, actionable trends that will benefit the company.”

Paul Sewell, director of marketing for The Hiring Group: “I needed a marketing business partnership that is flexible and agile, with the ability to tailor their services to meet our unique needs.”

Kent Lewis, president of Anvil Media, Inc.: “Proven track record, third-party validation, thought leadership, credentials, industry experience, and price. Value-added criteria are education, first-hand experience, proactive feedback, referrals, additional exposure, and strategic thinking.”

Stan Tan, digital marketing specialist at Selby’s: “Our visions and goals have to align with each other. For instance, a company wants its sales reps to work hard and win new clients, but if the sales reps’ goals aren’t aligned with the company, nothing good is going to be achieved.”

Antonella Pisani, CEO and founder of FACT Goods: “Their ability to align with your business goals. Give agencies a clear view of your business goals and what you hope to accomplish when working with them. Not providing clear business goals opens the doors for inefficient work that may hurt the business and waste precious marketing dollars.”

Mike Sims, CEO and founder of ThinkLions: “We look for someone who has tremendous success advertising businesses that are similar to ours. Each business is different and requires a different level of skill and ability to market it properly. For us, it is most important that a partner understands our business, our industry, and our specific goals.”

Jordan Barnett, director of Kapow Meggings: “Solid, reliable marketing partners. Many agencies and consultants have a very impressive ‘platform,’ ‘automated hub,’ ‘algorithmic system,’ or one of a million other proprietary tools, but don’t spend the time with us to be able to feed these the right data. I feel upfront research into a client’s business is lacking.”

Eric Hobbs, CEO of Technology Associates: “In a word — strategy. In past engagement, marketing firms have been deep on wanting to re-write/re-design our vision, brand image, etc., but when done there is a gap between the fresh start and an actual plan to leverage the new image.”

Matt Jeans, director at Saint Nails Ltd.: “Evidence, expertise, and professionalism. Sales people often make outrageous claims about the efficacy of their service. I look for partners who can substantiate their claims and show a fundamental understanding of why they do what they do. I also need [a marketing partner] to demonstrate that they know what they are talking about.”

Shervin Natan, CEO and founder of Ivory + Mason Socks: “A company with fresh ideas and relationships we do not have. Communication is the most valuable quality. We pay good money to our partners, and we want to know they are working for us, or at least make it seem that things are moving along to a shared goal.”

Lisa Fettner, vice president of marketing at Referral Exchange: “I’m looking for a mindset that fits with how we treat our clients and audience. I love partners who can actually ‘do’ the work vs. simply providing recommendations and expecting me to organize and execute everything.”

Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod: “The two qualities I look for in a strategic marketing partner are flexibility and the ability to self-manage projects. I need a marketing partner who is adaptable to my particular needs and has the experience and/or personnel who can plug in wherever I need them. I need a firm or person who can take initial direction well and then run with it without much supervision.”

Jessica Tsukimura, senior director of client services at Stag&Hare: “Transparency and a willingness to collaborate. Everyone involved needs to engage and be open to all ideas and possibilities, allowing us to collectively go on the journey together. Clients who keep an open mind and let go of the ‘rules’ they have assigned to their brand will allow for true creativity and breakthrough thinking.”

Mark Bietz, CMO of Fun.com/HalloweenCostumes.com: “Knowledge and adaptability based on the business. Lots of companies have quirks that make them unique, and agencies need to be able to adapt to this. Partners that are truly innovators in their field is key as well. Most valuable qualities include responsive account team, delivery of what the sales team sold, and performance-based compensation.”

James Pollard, founder of TheAdvisorCoach.com: “I’m looking for someone who understands the importance of tracking [ROI]. If a marketing agency can send me a report and say something like, ‘This is what we did; these are the results; these are our plans to make it even better,’ then I am forever grateful. Top quality is an eagerness to learn about my particular market.”

Nate Masterson, marketing manager at Maple Holistics: “There’s only one reason to hire a strategic marketing agency: fresh ideas. The marketing agency hired should scream creativity. It’s the most important factor in a marketing strategy.”


Most marketers also prioritize how well a partner’s goals can align with the company’s goals. Failing to see eye to eye about the company’s goals can doom a marketing relationship from the start. Other desirable traits include:

· A firm understanding of the business/industry/competition

· Evidence of success, such as case studies of clients with similar businesses/industries

· Goal alignment between company and marketing agency

· Creativity and innovativeness

· Honest and transparent communication

· Personalized, flexible strategies

· Fulfilling promises given in an initial sales pitch

· Getting down to the hard numbers

· Self-starters who don’t need a lot of supervision

What Are Your Marketing Partner Pet Peeves?

We then asked marketing executives about what they aren’t looking for in a marketing partner — their greatest grievances and pet peeves. Here’s what they had to say about irksome past experiences with agencies:

Constantine: “Getting complaints without any proposed solutions to the same; meagerness. Lack of attention on deliverables; sloppiness.”

Joy: “Performing as a vendor and not a partner. Also, avoiding the tough conversations. I look for great partners who do not just tell me what I want to hear, but what I need to hear, even if they think it’s a risky move.”

Tom: “Not paying attention to all the numbers. At the end of the day, the only actual number that matters is what is left after all the costs and expenses have been paid.”

Emily: “When an agency partner doesn’t push back. It’s their job to tell you when you’re wrong and why.”

Paul: “Companies that throw things over the fence with absolutely no communication, due diligence, or sincere effort. Also, the ‘You’re such a small client we’ll need to move your project down the list’ mentality is a hot button.”

Mike: “Partners who oversell themselves — those who make large claims but don’t meet them.”

Eric: “Marketing companies that view success in any other measure than increased customers. A huge pet peeve is relying on traditional marketing versus other ‘guerilla tactics’ that would help move the needle.”

Jeff: “Lack of follow up and follow through. I expect them to take the initiative, but I also need them to ask questions where relevant, so they can continue making progress on their responsibilities.”

Jessica: “Anyone who doesn’t communicate honestly. What isn’t working well? Have that chat openly and honestly. This will help everyone involved and will move the creative forward effectively.”

Mark: “When sales expectations do not match what’s truly offered in services. If software is provided, not being able to provide custom reports or functionality.”

James: “My biggest pet peeves are marketers that talk about ‘branding’ and ‘awareness’ without a direct relation to [ROI]. I’m a strong believer that the only reason to spend money on marketing is to convert a lead into a customer. I need a report that shows exactly how the marketing method used generated profit.”

Nate: “I don’t like it when they decide to set the expectations for me. Telling me what to expect can lead to one of two mistakes: setting the bar too high, in which case they’re setting themselves up for failure, or setting the bar too low, in which case I’ve already moved on to someone better.”


Many of the marketing executives we asked prefer outsourced partners and agencies to be up-front and honest about things the company is doing wrong. A common pet peeve was agencies that focused on pleasing the client more than making real, measurable changes to the bottom line. Companies expect marketing partners to be just that — partners in helping the business succeed.

What Services Do You Outsource vs. Staff In-House?

Next, we asked about which services companies prefer to outsource to a marketing agency rather than handle in-house. These answers varied considerably depending on the size of the company and its available in-house resources:

Constantine: “I like to outsource projects that have a short life cycle. I in-house projects that can allow a person to learn and grow professionally while contributing to the business’s bottom line.”

Joy: “Strategic planning and creative services are the easiest to outsource and justify from a budget perspective.”

Tom: “My rule: Never outsource the simple, routine stuff.”

Emily: “We keep much of our CRM and social efforts, including social insights, in house.”

Paul: “We outsource website back-end development, SEO, and some design needs.”

Mike: “While we will outsource our ad campaigns and some of our promotions; our blog content is always produced in-house.”

Eric: “The overall strategy needs to be owned internally with outside resources carrying out the tactical items and providing feedback on the strategy and tactics.”

Shervin: “We outsource our entire affiliate marketing services, since our partner has over 20 years in the industry. It would take us years to catch up to their knowledge and develop the relationships they have cultivated over the years. We do all of our digital marketing in house from SEO, paid ads, etc. because it requires monitoring 24/7.”

Lisa: “We outsource quite a bit due to resource issues. I’m always looking for people who want to be my partner, and who can execute quickly, correctly, and on brand.”

Jeff: “I hire marketing agencies and contractors to fill in the gaps where I need some help. I currently outsource social media marketing and some SEO activities.”

Mark: “We staff mostly in house, but for specialty projects like TV commercials or personalization, we outsource.”

James: “I tend to outsource a lot of copywriting. I do a lot of follow-up and content marketing in-house.”


The main trend is to hire an outside marketing partner for services, expertise, and technologies the company does not currently have in-house. Most executives agree they would rather outsource marketing than spend the time and money it would take to match an expert’s level of experience and knowledge on the subject.

What Do You Look for in Reporting and KPIs?

Finally, we asked the marketing executives about their most-desired reporting techniques and habits from partners, as well as for the key performance indicators (KPIs) they value the most. Getting down to the hard numbers is part of a marketing agency’s job — one that some agencies perform better than others. Here’s what the executives think about reporting and KPIs:

Constantine: “Consistent, granular data presented in a way in which can be understood in the same way by an intern to a C-level executive. Our most important KPIs are brand loyalty, ratings, user acquisition, and retention.”

Joy: “I look for how well we perform against the hypotheses. Did we drive conversions? What was the ROI? How was the performance against industry standards?”

Tom: “Did we make money this month/quarter/year or not? Everything else is a proxy for a point on the trend line that leads to the bottom line. Always remember the only thing that counts in business is what is left over after everyone has been paid.”

Emily: “I look for the ‘why’ behind the data. Give me the insight that’s going to drive what we’re doing next. As a brand that encourages two-way conversations with our customers, the KPIs we’re interested in deal with engagement.”

Paul: “We track social listening, evaluating lead generation campaigns, and analyzing how certain messages resonate across our personas. Our KPIs include social media interactions, engagement rate, page visits, and inbound candidate inquiries.”

Mike: “Qualified and quality traffic, and conversion rate (the percentage of people who contact us after viewing our page).”

Jordan: “We look for reductionist actionable insight. We make sure whatever insights are being pulled are relevant enough to lead to change. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Eric: “A playbook type report that shows activities, engagement, and conversions, preferably on a weekly basis. Tracking all activities by week; posts, shares, views, click, registration, conversions, opens/click throughs with email, association meeting, etc. But most important is appointments attributed to marketing.”

Shervin: “We like our partners to generate at least 5x on top of what we are paying them to cover their cost and also make a profit for us, since we work on 50% margins.”

Lisa: “Quick call/recap report is always great. I look at four key categories for KPIs when evaluating/selecting an agency: trust and credibility, compatibility, holistic approach to marketing, and efficiency and efficacy.”

James: “How much money was spent, how much revenue was generated, how many customers were acquired, and the average value of a customer over a 30-day period. I try to make back my customer acquisition cost in 30 days or less.”

Nate: “The data to focus on is whichever data will help you make the decision you’re currently faced with. In other words, only pay attention to the data that’s relevant right now.”


It is important for a company to see that the marketing agency investment is translating into real, measurable returns. Weekly reports appear to be a consensus amongst most marketing executives, who want agencies to communicate with them openly and often. Companies also want tailored KPIs based on their current goals. A few shared desires in reporting/KPIs include:

· Measurable marketing results

· Relevant and personalized data

· Quality KPIs

· Insights that drive action

· Clear bottom line — is this working?

Something like an ROI marketing calculator could help companies gauge what the real results of marketing efforts could be for their brands. Discovering whether a marketing strategy is or isn’t working is the main goal for most executives when they review data reports from an agency.