A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Marketing Agency for Your Design Needs


If you’re considering marketing assistance, it’s crucial to ask all the right questions when hiring an agency in order to make the right choice. Trade show exhibiting demands that when you search for a marketing agency that fits your design needs, you find a partner that meets certain criteria including not only specific knowledge of the industry but also insights and experience in creating engagement within the exhibit. Attendees no longer visit your exhibit to score giveaways. Today engagement means that you encourage brand awareness and brand loyalty and that the exhibit experience creates a preference for your product or products. Deciding on the right partner takes careful considerations and there are several questions to ask before hiring a marketing agency.

In order to help with your agency selection, here are thirteen questions to ask when hiring a marketing agency. You might even be able to add a question or two of your own to the decision making process.

13 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Marketing Agency for Your Design Needs

  1. Does the agency know the industry—specifically the healthcare industry? Healthcare isn’t an industry for rookies. You can’t fake it ‘till you make it. What makes healthcare unique, and maybe tricky is the legal and regulatory landscape. If your agency isn’t well-versed in how to handle compliance issues, keep up your search.
  2. Does the agency know your therapeutic area, in addition to knowing the general landscape of the healthcare industry? This is a piece of knowledge that should set apart the contenders for your business. Knowing your therapeutic area means knowing not only the key congresses but also smaller, targeted medical meetings. Equally important, knowing your therapeutic area means knowing competitive products and how they are marketed on the show floor. It means understanding the make-up of the attendees at the relevant shows—which will help you develop engagement in partnership with the agency.
  3. Does the agency understand experiential? You might think, “of course they do—or they wouldn’t be bidding for our business.” Don’t mistake ‘exhibiting’ for ‘experiential.’ Today’s attendees expect experiences. Although many agencies have a history of building structures, they are not necessarily adept at providing environments for engaging experiences. Experiences make content memorable. Consumer products understand this very well. Without an experience, your presence on the show floor is utterly forgettable.
  4. Does the agency understand planning a program rather than building a one-off exhibit? Rarely do healthcare companies limit their exhibiting activities to one show each year. As we mentioned earlier, there are key congresses as well as smaller meetings. Planning a program is more about brand and message consistency than it is about exhibit properties, although that consideration is essential. Programmatic planning includes not only knowing the shows but also each venue with its opportunities for building awareness as well as its constraints.
  5. Does the agency have a strong design portfolio? Beyond reviewing photos, have they offered to accompany you to a show where several of their exhibits are on the floor? Do you feel comfortable discussing what you want—and need—with the designers, or do you feel intimidated? Insecure? One thing is true: you will be spending a lot of time and money with the agency, and just as in personal transactions, you are holding the purse strings. If you sense that your input is being ignored, STOP! You will be paying for changes if you don’t start off on the right track with the right person.
  6. Does the agency understand options in fabrication? This can get tricky when planning for your program. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on non-customer facing expenses such as freight and drayage. On the other hand, you want properties that will be able to go from show to show throughout your program without needing to be replaced midstream. There is no single answer. Fabric gets dirty. Corners get dinged. Show floor catastrophes such as a forklift running into your back wall are the stuff of legends. Discuss the pros and cons of materials available to you, materials that help tell your brand story in a three-dimensional presence in the exhibit hall.
  7. Does the agency understand the impact weight has on your exhibit program? If they do, is this an agency that consolidates shipments to key shows? (another reason why the agency should know your industry and your therapeutic area). For so many healthcare shows, drayage is an unknown until the final invoice comes in. Savvy exhibitors are aware of this unpleasant fact and plan for it. Share your concerns with the agency and ask what their experience has been with other clients.
  8. Does the agency discuss efficiencies with you? Let’s take a big one: rigging. If you want overhead identity, is there another way to achieve this without hiring riggers? Or lighting: is truss really necessary to achieve the lighting effects you want? Consider the size of the show: will you get a positive ROI from hanging truss for your lighting at a given show? How should you allocate your budget? Sit down with the agency and review possibilities for achieving the brand story you want to tell in the most cost-effective way.
  9. Does the agency talk to you about modularity? If you have two shows at the same time, how do you deal with the situation without sacrificing brand consistency? Do you create duplicate properties upfront so that you can handle multiple shows? If you anticipate smaller footprints after the big launch show, are your properties going to be scalable? Remember, you want to look like the same company—or to promote the same brand—from show to show. Rather than build for the large show with properties that you probably won’t be able to reuse, what rental options are available to you? And if you have multiple brands using the same exhibit, what suggestions does the agency have for changing the look of the exhibit for different brands? And how will graphics fit into these properties and different configurations?
  10. Does the agency have any preferred partners for things like flooring, lighting, furniture, etc.? Can they direct you to a competent data gathering company?
  11. Is the agency willing to use existing properties, probably properties some other agency designed and built? Have the drawings ready to show them what you want to use. You might have several reasons for doing this: cost is one. Another is that someone on the leadership team is in love with a particular tower or hanging sign. Ask the designer to suggest how to incorporate these items.
  12. Does the agency have a protocol, respectful and to the point, for handling the moving of the properties from the last agency’s warehouse to their own?
  13. What are the agency’s warehouse capabilities? Are properties in the warehouse insured? It’s okay to see the certificate of insurance. If your properties won’t be insured, is your company willing to pay for insurance? Where, geographically, does the agency warehouse properties? Is there more than one? Is transshipping part of the conversation? If not, it should be. How much will you pay for storage per cubic foot? Are you only paying for the space you need, or will you be paying from floor to ceiling?

The wrong agency can be expensive in more ways than one. Now that you know the right questions to ask when hiring a marketing agency, you’re prepared to make the best decision for your business. Much of your career rides on choosing the right partner—the right one for you.

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