Marketing agencies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; each has its own unique philosophy, approach, style and strengths. And each of these factors should be taken into account when making your final selection decision.

Over the last several years, the marketing industry has seen a blurring of the lines between ad agencies, branding agencies, strategic agencies, digital agencies and even PR firms — and most now proclaim to be full-service. Combined with the shrinking of geographic barriers made possible by the digital age, firms searching for a marketing agency partner can be faced with a seemingly endless list of options.

So what should firms look for in a marketing agency?

Obviously, reputation, experience and portfolio are all important things to consider in the selection equation. After years spent on the client side as a marketing leader before joining the agency world, I’ve come to realize that a successful agency relationship really depends on finding the right fit for your firm. Here are a few thoughts on what makes a good fit:

1. Values that align with yours

Each agency has a unique set of values that drives its approach and impacts the work it delivers. Much like purchasing a car, everyone comes to the process with a different idea of what they’re looking for in terms of function, quality and price. So it’s absolutely critical for you to identify what you’re looking for and make sure you select an agency that has the same approach. Are you looking for a strategic partner at the table or a tactical vendor to churn out creative? Are you looking for an order-taker or someone to proactively bring you new ideas and guide your marketing? Do you value high-end strategy, research and design or are you more concerned with budget and turnaround? Ultimately, what you value most should be matched by the agency’s philosophy.

2. Core competencies that match your primary needs

Although most agencies consider themselves to be full service, each has a “sweet spot,” or a set of core competencies where they excel. To avoid disappointments with the outcome, it’s important to identify your primary marketing need and make sure you select an agency that can truly boast of expertise in that area. So it’s in everyone’s long-term best interest for agencies to be forthcoming with identifying what’s in their wheelhouse and what’s not. In other words, what you need the most should be one of the things they do the most.

3. A common language

Industry expertise matters a lot, especially in business-to-business marketing and in highly technical and complex industries such as professional services and A/E/C. After all, marketing strategy and tactics are not one-size-fits-all — each industry is different and requires a unique marketing approach. An agency with little-to-no experience in your industry can mean either a steep learning curve to be overcome or strategic marketing and creative decisions that don’t mesh with your audience or sales cycle. The right agency will “get” what you do, whom you compete against and what matters most to your clients and prospects.

4. Chemistry matters

When you hire a marketing agency, you’re ultimately hiring the people that work at that agency. And you’re going to be interacting with these people regularly, spending a fair amount of time with them and working closely with them on various initiatives. Does their style mesh well with yours? Are the various personalities going to be conducive to a healthy working relationship with your team or an obstacle? Do they seem to like working with each other or do you sense interpersonal issues that could be problematic? As with all relationships, chemistry matters. Part of determining a good fit comes down to selecting an agency that can operate as an extension of your team and roll up their sleeves and work with you, not just for you.

5. Who do you want to work with?

After identifying competent agencies that can do the work, all these other factors contribute to identifying the agency that fits best with your needs — today and well into the future. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a simple question: Who do you want to work with? Who do you want at the table helping your firm with your marketing initiatives?

It comes down to fit

Selecting a marketing agency partner is an important decision. Beyond capabilities and experience, it comes down to fit. Carefully considering the fit will greatly affect the long-term success and health of your client-agency relationship.