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4 Things To Consider In Picking An Agency

I read an interesting article recently called Nine Things To Look For In An Agency Partner. In my former life as a communications agency head and my current one where I both work with agencies and sometimes help companies find agency partners, I thought it might be helpful to share the qualities I view most highly.

While there are many criteria one should look at in reviewing a communications agency partner, and I can’t quibble about the nine that were suggested, I think fewer criteria are better. Having fewer will help those selecting an agency focus on the ones that matter most. In that spirit, here are 4 top qualities I think are most important:

1. Has the agency demonstrated some insight into my business?

This requires homework which is far easier to do in today’s world. In some cases it’ll require discussion with customers (if b-to-b) or consumers. I actually think “category experience” is sometimes a bit over-rated. I’d want to know how much thought they’ve given to my business.

2. Does the agency think digitally or are their solutions primarily traditional?

This does not require the agency to be a “digital agency”. In fact, every successful agency in the future will have to have strong digital skills, or they will become yesterday’s news. Digital will no longer be a “department” rather it will be the entrée of the agency. As a prospective client, the question you should ask yourself is whether the agency is thinking about tomorrow or stuck in yesterday.

3. What are their people like, particularly their lead account person?

Chemistry is, was, is and forever will be a key element of any business relationship. How do you feel about them as professionals and as people? Will they wear well with you? Does their lead account person on your business have the gravitas to offer serious business counsel and likewise does he/she have the influence within their organization to drive your projects through the agency with little muss, fuss, and surprises.

4. How does the agency measure success for their clients?

Ask specifically how they measure success on several clients. Listen carefully for the metrics employed. Don’t be concerned about the specific data–in fact an agency should never share proprietary data of its clients—you wouldn’t want them to do so if you become a client, would you?  Listen to their process. 

Notice that none of these criteria is related how much the agency charges for its services. A smart client considers ideas and people first and costs last. Cost is important and always will be, but the reason one uses an agency is for the value delivered. Pay fairly, get good value, and build a long term relationship. Everyone wins in that kind of relationship.

Did I miss any qualities?




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3 Comments

  1. Carl D says:

    Great blog post. If I were to add to your list here, I would say : Ask who will actually be spending time working on my account ? Are they using the old bait and switch method ? Or is the person I’m meeting with actually the person who is going to be working on MY account ? Big agencies have a tendency to do this. If you’re meeting with a senior executive at a “big agency”, don’t be surprised if he just hands your account off to an intern when you leave the office.

  2. Neil Perry says:

    Nice list, and a very informative newsletter.

    One mistake people sometimes make is thinking that digital is also social. Some agencies do a great job at online promotions, and website design, as well as digital ads … but are they socially astute. Do they as an agency use social means to communicate to customers, prospects and followers? Are they sharing what they’ve learned and discovered to benefit the industry? Do they use social themselves, or do they just talk the talk.

    Great list, and I think Carl’s comment on the bait and switch comment is most appropriate having worked with some of the biggest agencies in my past. I want to select agencies where I know the principal is more than a figurehead showing up at the pitch … I want them aware of my business and engaged.

    Thanks for sharing.

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