Are you married? Are you in a committed relationship? If so, did you start that journey knowing as much about your partner’s needs as you do now? How about your own needs? Did you really know what you’d want and need now in 2013? How would your partner answer those questions?
Selecting an advertising agency isn’t easy. It’s creating a relationship that could take years to evaluate. The more work you put into it, the more likely it’ll be satisfactory. Before my days working in the ad agency software field, I learned a lot about what makes a good advertising agency. You owe it to yourself and your organization to get it right, but you’ll need a lot of luck to do so. Here’s what I mean:
1. First what do you really want Do you want a marketing partner? Do you want a solid group of professionals to do a lot of the busy work after you have provided the strategic direction? Do you want a bit of both? Does your CEO insist on an agency which has specific experience in your area, and do you agree? There are a lot of other questions that you should think about and consider sharing with the agencies you evaluate. That process the make-or-break the selection of the right fit for you. The ultimate decision maker must feel comfortable with all of the primary decisions. Do you need an agency and if so, what services will you expect? Are you honestly the ultimate decision maker? Be honest! Are you? If not, who is and what do you need to satisfy her or him? As you can see, this is a fairly complex process.
2. OK, you’ve thought about it and you have a good idea about your needs. What next? Do you need a consultant, someone to guide you through the maze? Have you done it previously and if so, how did it work out and what did you learn? It is very likely you will have to do a lot of research. Do you have the time to do it? You decide. I can’t advise because I don’t know you, your organization’s needs or your fiscal constraints. All I can do is urge you to think about it.
3. You might be wondering a lot of things. What am I supposed to think about? Does size matter? Who will influence the final decision and what are their perceptions of the entire marketing/advertising process? Are your co-workers friend or foe? Is it smart for you to choose to interview only well known, high profile agencies or can you be comfortable selecting that group which just broke away from a giant agency to start a new one? Bear in mind that failure with a big, well-known agency will feel different than failure with the alternative. This whole process requires guts and you might be wise to choose the safest agency. Whatever that means.
4. Now you’re ready to select the possibilities. There are more “do’s” than “don’ts” in this step. Don’t make contact with ten agencies – three to five makes the process manageable. Don’t select agencies that have the same profile. You’re entitled to know differences in what’s available. The one characteristic all agencies have in common is the skill to be superior presenters. This should not be a “beauty contest,” but it can easily become one if you aren’t disciplined. The more people involved in evaluating presentations, the less likely it is that they can resist good entertainment.
5. Give two or three agencies clear directions regarding what you want to know about them. Don’t ask for size, scope, history, awards or other things that can’t be immediately translated into benefits for you and your organization. Don’t ask for solutions to specific challenges you face in your marketing/advertising future. No agency can know you and your challenges well enough to be an expert at this stage of a relationship. Don’s ask for references because every agency has satisfied clients who will speak on their behalf. Don’t ask for expertise in any specialty unless you plan to use it. If you have a staff which includes professionals in SEO or Public Relations, you won’t need the agency’s capability in those areas. Give them specific time constraints for them to present their response, and try to see them all on the same day.
6. What might the “do’s” be? You can create your own list but the following might be useful guidelines. Ask them to tell you about a significant campaign that featured a measureable success. What were the marketing and communications goals? What was their solution? Why was it a success? Ask them for the same information about an effort that was deemed disappointing or a failure. Ask them, “Why?” in both cases. Ask them what kind of client is the best fit for the way they do business. Inquire about their perceptions about the three reasons that are most likely to cause friction between client and agency. Ask them for their opinion of the future of advertising as technology continues to influence those subjects. marketing project management software can help organize your thoughts at this point in the process.
7. It’s wise to create a situation that reduces the opportunity for an agency to use boilerplate responses right from their word processor. Make them demonstrate their ability to show you their thinking, their policies; even their expectations about making a profit. Keeping them a little off balance can teach you more about them than you would ever learn from a well-practiced pitch. Once, I had a prospect who selected six agencies to visit. He provided detailed, written explanations about what he wanted to see in a two hour meeting at each of the agencies. He showed up more than an hour late and was with his sixteen year old son. As CEO, I greeted him and invited him and his son into our conference room. He asked for a few minutes with me first. Of course, I complied. He quickly advised me that he only had twenty minutes for the meeting. My first reaction was anxiety; then came the anger. I came very close to refusing, but decided to talk anyway. He asked seemingly unrelated questions about my childhood, my artwork, my vacations. It felt weird to me. We got the account, a very big one for us, and I learned that he did that with every agency. Honorable? No. Do I recommend it? No way. For him, it was a way to see how the agencies “work under pressure.” I point it out here to make a point, not to suggest that you do it.
8. At this point, you are well prepared to make the decision. Think of it this way: imagine that you need a new Art Director. Now, imagine that you have three excellent candidates all of whom have done good work for organizations like yours. How do you make the decision? You rely on your most trusted friend, your own feelings.
9. Make the decision promptly, as memories can be faulty. If contracts are required, be sure to focus on who owns what. What kind of notice is required to terminate the relationship. There is conflict in every good relationship. How can it be minimized and managed in your’s?
These nine tips are a great place to start when beginning your hunt for a new advertising agency. Keep your wits about you, and trust your gut! You already have everything necessary to make a good decision, now go out there and do it!
Allan Kalish is co-founder and Chairman of Workzone, LLC, a provider of web-based project management software and collaboration tools for ad agencies, marketing departments and any organization needing to manage projects more effectively.