Choosing an agency can be a daunting proposition. The number of agencies continues to grow, and the menu of services they provide can read like an encyclopedia. So how do you choose the right one?
First of all, it’s worth keying in on why you are hiring an agency. Having a clear view of your why will help in identifying your what and, ultimately, your who. Before beginning your agency search, take time to survey your team and key stakeholders. Not only will this help crystallize (and reset, if necessary) your own objectives, but it will also uncover potential areas of disagreement over what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place. A firm grasp on your why will also help you figure out what questions to ask and what capabilities to look for in a prospective agency.
In general, the reasons that companies engage with agencies fall into three broad categories, which are not mutually exclusive: intellectual capital, technology and resources, and bandwidth.
I need agency creativity, intellectual capital or expertise.
Whether it’s developing an integrated brand strategy, designing an award-winning website, staging a multicity influencer engagement campaign, or developing a media plan to target a specific group of decision makers, organizations often find they simply do not have the internal expertise among their marketing and communication staff. Agencies are able to draw on the experience of multiple teams, each of which possesses deep knowledge and best practices experience in a specific area. Our media team, for example, plans and places more than 1,000 digital ads each year. They are dedicated to staying on top of the latest trends and have developed a broad repertoire of lessons learned when launching an effective media campaign.
I want to leverage the agency’s technology and resources.
Technology is expensive, and companies turn to agencies because they don’t have the resources to invest in the latest marketing and communication tools. Particularly in the digital space, there is a myriad of platforms that have been developed to monitor media mentions, social conversations and share of voice, perform in-depth analytics, build lead-capture websites, and produce video content in multiple formats.
In addition to investing in these tools as part of their core business, agencies have a broad range of tactical resources and relationships at their fingertips. Case in point: Our creative team is able to both design and deliver printed materials that range from wraps for tractor trailers and NASCAR race teams to brochures and one-inch boot tags.
I need an agency’s added bandwidth.
Developing a plan is one thing. Flawlessly executing one, especially over a prolonged period of time, is another. In addition to providing the “brains,” agencies often supply the “brawn,” whether it’s managing daily social media posts or hosting an event that draws hundreds of spectators. Our events team, for example, handles approximately 350 events a year, and these engagements require an enormous amount of logistical support, including transportation. Over the past three years, our fleet of 19 tractor trailer trucks has logged an average of more than 283,000 miles a year across the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Rather than attempting to “staff up” for campaigns and initiatives (or worse, having an effort fall flat due to lack of bandwidth), companies turn to agencies in order to make their visions a reality.
I know what I want. Now what?
Now that you’ve defined your why and your what, here are some key criteria to consider when choosing the right agency or deciding if your current client-agency relationship is still a good fit.
Does the agency understand your business?
Do they take the time to understand, not only your marketing/communication needs and pain points, but your business operation as a whole? Do they have experience in related industries? Simply put: You can’t market what you don’t understand.
Is there cultural alignment?
Does the agency share your values? Do they fit your personality and workstyle? Equally as important, do you enjoy working with them?
Does the agency strike a productive balance between process and collaboration?
While there is a definite value to following a tried and true process, if an agency’s approach is formulaic, it can hamper a company’s ability to feel engaged and buy into a solution. Equally as important, however, is whether the agency is able to keep a project on track despite the fact that your company may have a lengthy approval process and competing priorities.
Are you being served or are you being sold?
Did you feel as if you are their only client, or are you acutely aware that the agency has competing needs from other clients? In addition, if you feel that you are consistently being “up-sold,” or that your conversations tend to center on “changes in scope,” chances are you haven’t found the right fit.
What do their former clients say?
While any reference is likely to provide a favorable review, you can gain valuable insights by digging a little deeper and asking questions such as:
“If you had to the opportunity to work with the agency again on this same project, how would you have engaged with them differently?”
“Does the agency have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude?”
“What advice do you have regarding how to best work with them?”
“How closely did what you expect, what they promised, and what they delivered align?”
“Where do you think this agency’s ‘sweet spot’ lies?”
Look at an agency’s sample work.
If you don’t see examples that relate to what you’re looking for, ask for some.
Your relationship with an agency should be a partnership, with each party contributing to achieve a common goal: the success of your organization. Approaching the partnership with a clear idea about why you want to engage will go a long way in ensuring a successful, long-term relationship.
At Jackson, our philosophy encompasses three main principles: We help our clients solve their biggest marketing challenges, we are committed to providing excellent service, and we focus on actionable strategies to help our clients grow. Learn more about our philosophy at http://www.jacksonmg.com/about/.