Insider tips for Selecting an Agency Partner

August 3, 2017 - 11:30am
Ashton Smith

Almost a decade ago, I started out in the “marketing world” on the client side of the business. Working at a large restaurant company who often had close partnerships with agencies on a multitude of brands all living under the same roof. After 7 years, I decided it looked like the ad folks were enjoying their lives so much I wanted to make a change, and I did. I made the move AGENCY SIDE. Now with some years under my belt on this side of the pond I feel I have a unique outlook on the relationship between an agency and client, more specifically outlook into how the two meet.

When I was a client and would look for an agency partner for a unique brand problem we were working to solve I never felt like I knew the right questions to ask, the right things to look for as we toured an agency or met with the directors. If you find yourself looking for an agency partner here are 4 things I think you should spend time focused on in order to find a perfect match.

Do Your Homework.

In my experience, everyone in your organization will want to participate in the agency selection process. Taking part in a search for an agency is exciting and fun. However, giving equal weight to all opinions ignores the fact that different team members have different levels of experience, and sometimes, different expectations. Fewer people involved, specifically focusing on the decision makers, makes for a smoother experience for both your team and the agencies you meet with. Before you ever pick up the phone, the first, and most crucial step in the process is to sit with the key stakeholders in your organization and define what you are hoping to gain from partnering with an agency. Do you need help developing a new strategy, redesigning your brand, want to become a leader in your category, enter a new market? Whatever that goal might be, having a clearly defined objective will help guide the process, rather than it guiding you.

Experience should be in the field, not the category.

You should steer away from hiring an agency based solely on its history. Hire an agency for its future, its vision. Look at what it thinks about the most important trends. Find out how well it understands and embraces technology, how deep and central to its culture that is. Many organizations think that working with an agency experienced in their industry is a requirement. While industry experience is helpful, it isn’t the end all be all. One of the things I have experienced first hand is how agencies can take ideas and learnings from across the variety of industries we are exposed to and apply them to client’s specific challenges. Choosing an agency with a wide range of experience across numerous fields can yield a fresh perspective and bring your organization out of the weeds. If you are going to base your decision on experience, choose the experience that really matters; marketing and communications.

Price Isn’t Everything.

Before stepping foot into a meeting you should have your budget in mind, it doesn’t have to be a locked in number rather an idea to use as a starting point. A lot of times clients assume that an agency can’t or won’t be able to work within their budget but a good agency is flexible in their approach when they have a clearer picture of what they are working with. You are hiring an agency for the quality of its output, so treat the search the same you would when looking for a doctor or a lawyer. At the end of every day, it is an agency’s business model to create value for the clients it serves. You should be confident that the agency you select is results oriented and run operations and billing with integrity and transparency. Agencies should be upfront and honest about how and where they will spend your budget- clear communication about how the agency operates its billing processes can help to avoid nasty surprises along the way.

It’s all in the chemistry.

Unlike my last point, THIS. is. everything. The key to long-term success with an agency partner is a good working relationship. It is imperative that as you meet with agencies you like the people you meet and their approach. We often call this the “chemistry check” and as much as you want to ensure that it is a great match, the agency is doing the same with you. One thing that is so important to me, now that I have experienced it first hand, is knowing that the team I am meeting with in a pitch is the team I will BE working with on the day-to day. Not a new-biz team but the everyday team you are entrusting your brand to. The core values of an agency will reveal to you the kind of relationship you are likely to experience. Seek agencies that are collaborative, innovative and proactive throughout the process. The office often reflects their culture, so make sure you spend time in it. The mark of a good agency is often in the cheerfulness and energy as you walk through its halls. So hang around a bit.

It is also imperative for you to note the structure of the agency. When I was client side I never paid attention to the makeup of the agency we partnered with- if they had freelancers, or contracted out work it never crossed my mind to ask, frankly because I assumed they were all in the building. Since coming to Texas Creative specifically I have realized how important it is to partner with an agency that has the team working on your business all under one roof. This model is crucial to success and allows designers, account managers and even web developers, media planners and everyone in between to sit down at the same table and work through whatever they may need at the moment. When clients come to us for new websites I always make sure to share how important it is that we have designers and web developers working through the process hand in hand which can alleviate cost and unneeded confusion for a client.  

Advertising is an investment- both financially and in people, partners.  Finding the right agency can be a time-consuming process, but the effort is worth it in the long run when you find a partner that helps your business achieve, and even exceed its goals. If you are looking for an agency partner please visit our contact us page and share your “homework” with us, we would love to meet with you. Have something else to add to these tips? We would love to hear that too, head down to the comments and share.

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