There's no such thing as the best agency - Only the one that's a right fit for your organization
When you are ready to find a new marketing agency of any type, of course you want to hire an agency that ideally meets your requirements, aligns with your culture and is within your budget. Our experience shows that as with any endeavor, the more thought and effort a company puts into the process upfront, the better the results will match expectations.
It’s incredibly frustrating, disruptive, and costly when after an exhaustive search, the relationship does not meet the expectations of either the client or the agency. Although you can never guarantee a perfect fit, there are steps both the client and the agency can take to help ensure that the partnership is successful.
While we were on the corporate side as a client, we hired and worked with many agencies of all types and sizes. And, during our time working within an agency, we responded to countless RFQs, RFPs, discovery discussions and of course, pitches – a lot of pitches. Most recently, we identified and sourced a new agency of record for a major hospital system. We’ve seen all sides of this process, the client side, the agency side, and being the facilitator in between the two. So, what works and what doesn’t?
Our Top Ten 10 Tips For Agencies & Clients
For the agency
1. Get It There On Time
Seems basic, but we see this happen a lot – still blows our minds. If the RFP says, “due by 5:00PM on a certain date, in a certain format, etc.” - then that’s what you need to do. And this applies to other guidance from the client. It’s great for an agency to take some creative license to go above and beyond the basic requirements, as long as they still follow the guidelines.
2. Be Nice
The client knows you are smart. Your agency wouldn’t have made it this far if they didn’t think highly of your capabilities. It’s a fine line between demonstrating your expertise and coming across as being smarter than them.
3. Highlight Your Team
During the pitch, only have people in attendance that add value (not there to answer questions in case they are called upon or to just take notes.) Don’t allow anyone to dominate the discussion – especially the senior person. Let your team shine and demonstrate the collaborative nature and the varied expertise within your organization. This is a great opportunity for them to get a sense of your culture.
4. Ask Questions
There is no need to guess. Many clients will have formal question and answer opportunities. Take full advantage of these. If they don’t, then find out from the client how to best get your questions answered. We’ve seen agencies fail to deliver upon some key points only because they didn’t understand the assignment, but could have easily called or emailed for clarification.
5. Be Transparent
Clearly outline how you plan to work with your client. Don’t bring in the A team for the pitch and then substitute the C team for the day-to-day work. Have the person that will be their primary account representative present during the pitch. Be willing to explain what you believe is the ideal client/agency relationship, and why. Inform them not only what you will do, but what your agency won’t stand for.
For the client
1. Have Well Defined Requirements
Be clear about what you are asking. Be as detailed as possible. Take the time to think through what you liked best about your other agencies and what didn’t work. What is the ideal working style and level of communication? How much time or access do you expect to have with senior agency staff? How would you like to handle disputes? Who on your team can direct the agency and be responsible for their direction and costs incurred? If you have multiple agencies, what are your expectations and guidelines on how they will work with the other agencies? What is the scope of work and what are your desired outcomes? Are you looking for strategic thinking or more tactical execution? And of course, what is your budget? Being clear about your budget is critical. Be transparent about how much you can spend, what you are willing to pay for and what you won’t. This is not the exhaustive list of things to consider, but it should give you an idea of what to be thinking about.
2. Choose The Right Size Agency
If you work with a huge agency, you might be the little guy on their roster and not get the attention or quality you expect. If you work with a small agency, you could be one of their biggest clients and get a lot of attention, but you might not receive the full service or type of expertise you are looking for. Do you need a full-service agency that can plan, execute and manage everything for you? Or do you primarily need support in handling PR, digital, branding, or insights, and would be better off with a niche or boutique agency? Have a sense of how much you want to handle internally vs. what you expect the agency to do for you.
3. Consider Compensating Agencies for Participating
Are you asking an agency to fly in to see you? Are you asking them to develop spec creative. Agencies earn their money by being smarter, more innovative, and more creative – this takes time. Time that they spend on responding to your RFP vs. time they could spend on one of their existing clients. And, there is no prize for second place. Many agencies won’t even consider you as a client once they weigh the risk vs. reward factors. You can help ensure you will get better agencies to respond by helping minimize their risk factor.
4. Don’t Underestimate The Importance of Cultural Fit
The agency with the most experience or best perceived capabilities won’t be effective if the working relationship is a mismatch. Communication break-downs will occur and trust will be tested. You and the agency should feel as if they are part of your company. They should feel as if they are an extension of your team and are looking out for your success and best interest at all times. Ensure the agency shares compatible values.
5. Decide If You Want a Partner or a Vendor
Not all relationships are created equally. If you want an agency to just follow your direction and orders, that is perfectly fine, but be clear about this up front. Agencies that really care about your business, that will think, feel, and act as if they are one of your most highly engaged employees, requires trust, collaboration, and respect. A good agency will challenge you, push back, continually bring new ideas to the table, and is continuously thinking about your business and how to make you more successful.
Hopefully this has provided some food for thought
A trusting and respectful relationship between a client and their agency is the cornerstone of being successful in your marketing and branding efforts. The mistake of entering into a relationship that is not a good fit is costly and taking the time and effort to do it the right way, pays huge dividends in the end.