Picking an agency is the beginning of a long term strategic partnership that will affect your bottom line for years and become an extension of your team. To be the right match, thought, preparation, time and energy need to go into the process.
An RFP will help you define your objectives. If you have a strategic plan in place already, include it. If not, you will be looking for an agency that has the talent to create one with you.
An important part of the RFP is a description of your company, its mission, its products, its achievements, selling points and benefits to its clients. The RFP should present a clear picture of your business model and demographics showing who your customers are. You want the agency to have a real feel for who you are in the marketplace.
When expressing your vision, keep in mind the budget, timing and other changes your company may be planning that may affect marketing plans. Use reality based planning. Think about what you would and would not accept in a contract.
Once you are satisfied with the RFP, begin asking people you trust who have been through this process for suggestions. Learn about the current dynamics of the industry. In addition to other business owners, you can ask people in the media, newspapers, broadcast stations, and radio stations, who regularly work with agencies for their recommendations. You can also check with advertising agency trade associations for information on their members.
Size is one consideration in choosing who to interview. Large agencies are appealing and impressive as they have staying power and may be more capable in handling international marketing and a wider variety of services. But many marketing officers prefer an agency that is smaller. Often, it is a lot easier to communicate with a smaller agency that can offer you consistency in handling your account and how easy they are to access. Larger agencies have more layers of personnel to go through. You want to be able to continually work with the same people you initially communicate with so there is a continuity of concept and ease of communication.
With referrals and recommendations in hand, you can arrange meetings.
Confidentiality is key, bring confidentiality agreements for agencies to sign before you begin disclosing private business information. These first meetings are sometimes called capability meetings as they allow the agencies to demonstrate what they can do.
You will want to know the specific marketing services (strategic planning, advertising, PR, design, media) they can provide. Where is their expertise? Is it in areas you need? Ask for case studies and for information that shows how their work expanded the company’s brand or image and increased sales or profitability for that company.
Awards and style are great but ask to see results. Willingness to track the results they generate and show ROI on client investment is proof of their confidence in their ability to provide you with a winning strategy.
Did they get it? After you explained your goals, issues and concerns, were they able to successfully recap their understanding of what you requested?
Is there a big picture strategy? That can come from you or from them as long as you both are on the same page. Strategy should be long term. Whether it’s yours or theirs they should be able to verbalize it to your satisfaction.
During your relationship, will you have access to the entire team or just the sales representative? It works best if the creatives can contact you directly to discuss the project, not have to go through layers of communication. Part of this is give and take of feedback, questions, opinions and critiques.
Does the agency seem competent and willing to offer you feedback on your brand and strategy? Agencies are always in the position of studying brands and products and how they function. Ask them to tell you honestly how yours measures up against other competitors in the marketplace.
Is there chemistry? An agency can be of any size, yet still show you that your work is of vital importance to them. They can show you by attitude, enthusiasm and availability that you are going to get the same focus and attention as their biggest clients. If they don’t make you feel like you are important during the interview process, they may not be right for you.
Lastly, focus on what you want to see by way of return on your investment. If you want to see more sales leads, or have a well-recognized brand in the marketplace, or more engagement on your website, make sure that outcome is understood by your agency partners. All of this should lead to a successful and satisfying partnership.