How to Choose an Agency Partner
Being involved with business development for a good part of my career, I’ve seen all kinds of new biz conversations, proposals, and pitches. You win some, you lose others, and you learn from either outcome.
In my role at Love Communications, I speak to brands nearly every day about their business and how (or if) we can help as an agency. That’s taught me a few things regarding how brands look for agencies, and what they should consider when they want to hire one. I’ll not overlook the fact that undertaking an agency search is not easy for a brand in the first place. But if helpful, here are five things I’d like to share to help any brand in their quest to choose the right agency partner.
The first and most important thing:
1. Do You Even Need an Agency?
David Ogilvy said it best: “Why keep a dog if you bark yourself?”
Ad agencies are great at solving big messy business problems. The messier the better. The biggest advantage an agency provides is an outside perspective and the talent to think through and solve those problems. At Love, we can bring a fair amount of that talent to the table as a full-service agency: strategy, creative, media, digital and public relations. Those viewpoints can be helpful to a brand. But that doesn’t mean hiring an agency should be an automatic decision.
Here are a few questions to consider if an agency would be a good fit for your needs:
- Do you have internal resources available? If you have an internal team, begin by defining their role vs. what an agency would (or could) do. If an agency fills a need that can’t be solved internally and help you solve your big, messy business problem? Then you’re on the right track.
- What budget resources do you have? Yes, it’s true: agencies can be spendy. But an agency will want to invest their time and energy to bring as much value as they can, and make you feel they’re an extension of your team for the long term. What you’d receive in return for an agency investment (hopefully) is a relationship that should help your brand and business succeed.
- Freelancers and consultants: Agencies come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with all kinds of specialist and generalist capabilities. But it doesn’t mean they’d be a fit for you. Depending on your internal team and the budget resources you have, bringing on a freelancer or consultant may get you exactly what you need. Consider scalability in the equation of how best to solve your business problems with outside resources.
After all of that: If you still believe an agency partner is the answer, here are four more factors to keep in mind as part of your search and selection process.
2. Detail Your Scope of Work and Evaluation Criteria
Be as detailed as possible on what you’d like an agency to do.
Please also identify how the scope aligns with your desired business goals and any KPIs you have. In addition, agencies need to know how you’re going to evaluate the field, aside from cost. What’s most important to you: specific capabilities? Experience? Credentials of the proposed team? Detail how those will be scored or weighted so agencies know where the emphasis should be.
3. Questions & Answers
Prospective agencies will want to know more than what you’ve sent them.
There will be questions to clarify your scope, to learn more about your brand and business, and to generally assess if there’s a decent fit. Here’s a suggestion if possible: please make yourself available to answer these questions on a call or Zoom instead of answering questions via email. It’s easier for agencies to ask any follow-up if answers aren’t clear and can give you a first impression or two on what agencies are interested in your business.
Also, here’s a guarantee: unless you provided it in your scope, you will be asked what your budget is, who your current agency is and if they’re in good standing, and why you are distributing an RFP in the first place. On behalf of agencies everywhere, please at least answer these questions as best you can.
4. Requesting Speculative Work
I look at it this way: you can’t spell “respect” without the letters “s-p-e-c”. And that’s what it’s all about.
Respect that if you’re asking for speculative work as part of your evaluation process, you’re asking an agency to take a risk of giving up time and talent in hopes of winning your business. Some agencies are more willing than others. Thus, you should be prepared to either compensate agencies for their time upfront or build enough time into your evaluation process for that proposed spec work to be developed.
You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Make certain your evaluation process includes an in-person (or at minimum, Zoom) opportunity to meet and greet. If possible, consider making visits to the actual agencies you’re evaluating. Not only will you get to see the turf where the work is done, but you’ll get a vibe and personality of the places you visit.
I’ve been involved in new business pitches where this factor was all the difference, and fortunately swung the decision in our favor. We’re all people after all, and we want to feel comfortable and excited around those we may be working with.
Good luck on your agency search! And I suppose I’d be remiss by not saying drop me a line if Love can help you. I’d enjoy the conversation 🙂
Jeremy Chase, VP Business Development
Jeremy leads Love’s business development efforts, seeking opportunities to raise Love’s profile and tell our story to potential clients. He’s a 25-year veteran of the advertising industry, having spent his career in both account management and business development roles. His professional experience with clients spans several industries: CPG, Higher Education, Technology, and state/federal government. He also has focused experience working with travel and tourism brands and has been a featured speaker at local, regional, and national industry conferences.
Born and raised in The Gem State, Jeremy’s an honors graduate of the University of Idaho. When not living his last name in the spirit of new business, he’s a proud parent of two boys, National Park passport traveler, rock ‘n roll historian, and occasional theatre artist.