The UK construction sector is (very) well served, with hundreds of communication channels reaching specifiers, contractors and the trades, including over 330 trade journals, 280 trade shows plus conferences, workshops, award schemes and hundreds more blogs, bulletins and specialist social media groups. For construction product suppliers and service providers, external agency support can play a vital role in reaching these audiences. In this feature, sponsored by construction specific, digital marketing specialists Insynth, we look at finding and selecting a specialist agency.
Needless to say, choosing the right marketing and/or PR agency is essential to ensure the maximum exposure and return investment. There are several thousand agencies active in the UK, so, for construction businesses, selecting from those which have an understanding of the industry can be significantly advantageous, since they will already possess an appreciation of the particular challenges, trends and opportunities, and have an established network of contacts across the media. In addition, this knowledge should enable them to begin any campaign much faster than an agency without experience of the industry.
In order to help our subscribers create a shortlist of candidate agencies, we have identified around 180 Marketing/PR Agencies, which either specialise in the construction industry or have an established track record of working for construction industry clients, and this database may be downloaded here. (You must be logged-in to access this. Alternatively, you may buy a copy of it, for £55 = VAT, in our Shop.)
Before appointing an agency, it is worthwhile selecting at least three and inviting each to tender for the account. Some of the key points to consider:
- Prepare an outline brief stating short-term requirements and long-term objectives.
- Think about the type of agency and services required relative to budget and, importantly, establish if their existing clients operate competitively within the same sub-sector.
- Consider how closely you want the agency to work with you in terms of how deeply integrated into your internal business activities would you like them to be.
- Terms of appointment, remuneration and marketing expenditure limits should be agreed and confirmed at the outset.
- Each tendering agency is likely to invest time and incur costs and it may be worth offering a financial contribution towards the costs of the presentation, time and travel. This will not only demonstrate your own commitment to the project, but is also likely to further incentivise each agency.
In a Construction News article entitled ‘How to Select the Right PR Partner’, Kirstie Colledge recommended setting clear objectives at the outset, explaining, “Many firms hire a PR agency without being clear internally as to what they want to achieve from it so managing expectations at every level from the start is vital. It is important that all parties understand the objectives, including timescales and outputs. Which do you need more: specialist PR skills for profile-raising, crisis communications, repositioning, product or service launch or specific knowledge of the construction industry? Understanding your organisation’s needs will help you to create a shortlist of agencies, or freelance individuals.....”
The agency Pauley Creative offers construction firms a tip for when they are drawing up the shortlist, suggesting that they consider contacting some of the media outlets who “work with a huge range of marketing professionals so can give an unbiased recommendation”.
Full Service Agency?
Another factor to consider is whether to engage a full-service agency to integrate all your communications or use separate agencies/resources for advertising, marketing, PR, internet, design, etc. The specialist construction industry agency Publicity Services suggests that, amongst many other benefits, the engagement of a full service agency will facilitate clearer and more efficient communications, since there’s no need to manage several different communications suppliers, to deliver the same brief more than once or to promote collaboration between different, potentially competing, suppliers. On its website, Publicity Services presents a range of arguments for the full-service approach, in the form of eleven bullet points which can be accessed here.
A further point which might be worth bearing in mind comes from SLG Marketing who suggest that "the other advantage of using a full-service agency is that the client is less likely to have one service 'pushed' upon them when another/others might be more appropriate".
Contract Out the Selection
Clients can ‘contract out’ the selection of an agency to a specialist consultant who will undertake to prepare a written brief and carry out the interviewing process, selection and negotiations, as required. The following companies offer such services:
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has a specific forum for construction. The CIM’s Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG) works on behalf of members to raise the status of the marketing profession within the construction industry. CIMCIG endorses the yearly Construction Marketing Awards from which is produced an annual league table of construction marketing agencies based on the awards. Our downloadable index of specialist construction marketing and PR agencies highlights those appearing on the latest league table.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has a specific forum for construction. CAPSIG
is the 'Construction & Property Special Interest Group', providing a forum for PR professionals working in the industry and organising networking events covering a wide range of subjects and issues. According to the website, CAPSIG member benefits include:
- Calendar of events on PR best practice in construction, building, residential and commercial property, architecture and related sectors.
- Exclusive networking opportunities with key industry figures.
- Opportunities to meet relevant media.
The International Building Press (IBP) is a membership organisation which brings together journalists, PR agencies and other communications professionals involved in the construction, architecture, housing and property sectors. IBP provides its members with unparalleled opportunities to share experiences, network and further their careers through a calendar of events and two prestigious annual awards schemes.
For guidance on standard business practices adopted by communications agencies of all disciplines, the relevant trade bodies detailed below provide copies of ‘Model Contractual Terms‘. These bodies can also offer detailed advice on selecting and appointing marketing and PR agencies:
In 2019, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising published the very comprehensive, best practice guide entitled 'Finding an Agency'. The guide not only explores the selection process, but also looks, in some detail, at hand-over processes, maintaining the relationship, managing reviews, etc. The guide is available free of charge from the IPA website here.
There are a couple of books on the subject which may also be helpful: John Ward's Using and Choosing an Advertising Agency: An Insider's View; and Choosing and Working with Your Advertising Agency by William M. Weilbacher.
Published in 2015 in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, 'Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns' by Anne Gregory presents a 12-point plan for ensuring success of campaigns of all sizes. It covers many vital areas, including the role of public relations in organisations, the importance of context, research and analysis, setting objectives, strategy and tactics, timescales and resources, evaluation, and review. The book is widely regarded as one of the best 'how-to' guides for students and practitioners.