Globally, marketers are expected to spend over $540 billion on advertising, nearly $110 billion on public relations, and $22 billion on market research. Selecting an agency to support your marketing objectives is a high-stakes, critical decision.
Agency selection is one of the most important and expensive decisions a marketing leader can make. Getting it right is critical, but often difficult. Indeed, over the last few years, the average agency tenure with a client has slid to below three years, a reflection of how often these relationships are formed in haste. Here’s what we think matters most when selecting your next agency:
Know what you want
The leading cause of friction between an agency and client is a poor understanding of goals and objectives. Often, the root of this problem lies with a client who hasn’t thought enough about what they need to accomplish.
Even for simple, one-off projects it’s worth writing down what you need, and the results you expect to achieve. For complex projects it’s essential to document things, often in a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI). Consider the scope of the project, its duration, and when you need to complete everything. Understand your budget, and have a clear expectation of what you and your company want to achieve. How will you create milestones to make sure you’re on plan? What do you need to give to the agency in order for them to be successful? How will you measure results? Answering these questions will help you identify the right agency for the job, and engage with them as a team.
Don’t restrict your search
It’s critical to know what skills and expertise you need. This is especially true for certain industries and types of project, for example in healthcare, financial services and government relations where prior experience, relationships and knowledge of industry regulations are important. That said, we recommend casting a wide net in your search. Fresh thinking can go a long way, and an ‘outsider’ perspective can often be the most creative.
Don’t choose just on brand name or price
Agency brands are important, and everyone has to live within a budget. Both matter, but neither should dictate which agency you choose.
An agency’s brand is an earned reputation that gives a good sense of ability and value. However, brands are often a factor of size and market presence, and it’s usually more important to know about the specific team you’ll hire. In the same way, dictating price can often be counterproductive. Within reason, try to focus on value and results, and be open to changing the scope of a project to get the outcome you need.
The team is everything
Agencies will sell their company, but in the end you’re hiring people, a team. Make sure you know who that team is, and know their experiences and accomplishments. Make sure you like them, and that they’re excited to have you as a client. Successful agency relationships hinge on trust between people. A good agency will be invested in your success, and will therefore be committed to a long-term relationship with all their clients. One good metric of an agency is the longevity of its client base – good agencies attract loyal customers.
Do your homework
Given all that you invest in an agency, it’s worth spending some time getting to know who they are. Talk to your colleagues and peers about agencies they like and trust. When you narrow a search down to an agency you like, get three or four references, and make sure at least one is a former, not current, customer.