How to Find, Interview and Hire the Right Advertsing Agency
First in a series of articles on effective marketing and advertising agency-client relationships. Contact MindEcology to extend the conversation.
So you’re on the hunt for a killer advertising or marketing agency, because you’re ready to do some killer work. Let’s talk about some of the things that need to happen first, along the way, and before you say “deal”:
Figure out what you’re trying to accomplish, before you start the search process. Do you need help with a re-brand, promotion for a special event, new customers for your expanded franchise, a boost for your brand’s digital presence? Once you’ve identified your own objectives, it will be easier for prospective agencies to tailor a specific pitch for your business that resonates and makes sense for you.
However: Don’t be afraid to say “We’re not sure what we need, we just know we need help.” An agency that’s got solid general capabilities – one that’s experienced in an array of marketing and advertising disciplines – will know how to help you untangle your challenges, extract the ones that take priority, and craft an integrated marketing and advertising plan that best meets your needs.
Decide if location makes a difference or not. In some cases, the best agency for your needs might be across town, but in other cases the right agency might be three hours down the road or three states away. Your choices increase when your business is open to the possibility of working with a remote partner, no doubt. But sometimes geography does matter – especially in cases where you believe there is a need for frequent face-to-face interaction, or when your business model requires a deep understanding of your community, or when there are political motivations that make it beneficial for you to hire a local shop.
Don’t expect (or ask for) free work. Any marketing or advertising agency worth consideration has way too much business – and self-respect – to do speculative work in the hopes of winning business. Don’t ask for a “for example” campaign plan, “what if” ads, or anything that resembles the work an agency would do once hired. This includes contests, by the way, as in “design our new poster or come up with our new tagline and we’ll think about hiring you” types of contests.
Not only will asking for speculative work eliminate the possibility that any top-notch agency will consider working with you, it also opens up your business to potential liability, since the prospects who provide speculative work can later claim you used their work product without compensation.
Don’t be rigid about resumes. An agency’s resume and references matter, absolutely. You should always be wary of any shop that doesn’t seem to have repeat or long-standing clients – even if they’re just starting out, they should be able to discuss in detail work that team members have done before they hung out their agency shingle.
But remember that industry experience doesn’t always matter as much as an agency’s capabilities, insights, and talent. If you’re looking at a sharp team, with chemistry that seems to jive with your team, it would be a shame to eliminate them simply because they’ve worked in 23 other industries, but not yours. In some cases, in fact, this can even be a good thing, as the agency may have an “outsider perspective” that will benefit your marketing strategy in a big way.
And speaking of chemistry, remember that it does make a difference. Before you make a hiring decision, picture your team and the prospective agency’s team at lunch, at happy hour, trapped together for a couple of hours during a storm – and working together five years from now. Chemistry isn’t everything, but it does matter – teams with mutual chemistry are more likely to generate top shelf ideas and inspire each other.
Get a handle on the agency’s services. Anybody can call themselves full-service, boutique, or specialist – at some point you need to know what in the hell that all means before you sign a contract. If a shop that bills themselves as full service always seems to be talking about their creative portfolio, and you need someone who really understands strategy, you better make sure that they’ve got integrated campaign management prowess as well before you move any further.
Revisit the past – but think in present terms. If you’ve had issues with agencies you’ve worked with in the past, it’s wise to bring those up with any shop you’re considering – ask them to speak in candid terms about how they would handle the problems you’ve previously experienced.
That said, be sure and leave the past where it belongs- behind you. If you go into an agency-client relationship determined to interact with them in a certain way based on your previous experiences, you may find that you’re shooting your best chances for success in the rear end before you even get started.
Don’t outsmart yourself. Big (and great) ideas for your business can only be generated over time, after a marketing or advertising agency has had a chance to observe, learn, research, and experiment. If you machine gun requests and questions during the hiring process that demand that a prospective agency save the world right then and there, creatively speaking, you may find that you end up hiring a shop that interviews well, versus a shop that actually does good work.
If you must use an RFP, be smart about it. We can’t lie – we’re not fans of the RFP process, and we think that most agencies would agree with us if you cornered them after a few drinks and asked for an honest opinion. But we understand that they are sometimes necessary or mandated evils, so when you must use them, use them wisely. That means sticking to your scoring process, even when someone really blows you away in one lesser-weighted category, and writing objective RFPs that are truly designed to identify the best agency, not just the one someone on the committee prefers to hire.