Appointing a creative/marketing/branding agency is arguably one of the biggest decisions you will ever have to make as a Marketing Director.
Whether it’s planning a complete re-brand or reviewing your marketing strategy, a strong relationship with an efficacious creative agency will help your business grow.
But it’s not always immediately obvious who you should select. They all promise to get the job done for you. So where do you start your search?
Step 1: Finding creative agencies
Before you start looking for the match.com of agencies and clients, work through the steps outlined below to identify potentially suitable agencies:
#1 Seek recommendations from your inner circles
Referrals by peers are a great way to find out a lot about an agency very quickly and gain some ‘insider’ information at the same time. Ask for concrete examples of what results the agency have achieved for your peer’s business and find out how they work day-to-day. Be sure to research each lead carefully though because the agency that’s right for your peer may not necessarily be the right fit for you.
#2 Search on Google
That’s what it’s for! Don’t lose sight of the fact that companies with high-ranking websites on key search terms are likely to be the leaders in their industry – and this is especially promising if you are looking for a digital agency! If regular face-to-face contact is important to you – consider how far you’re willing to travel on a regular basis for meetings with your agency – and adjust your location-based keyword searches to reflect this.
#3 Discover great work and find out which agency produced it
It’s true that bigger brands usually have the bigger budgets and can engage the largest agencies, but discovering great work doesn’t have to mean Coca Cola’s latest global campaign. If you’re still thinking of a pay off from a press ad you saw two months ago or even the creativity in a programme you saw in your local Arts Centre last week, find out which agency were responsible for the work and approach them with your own brief!
#4 Use independent online sourcing platforms like RAR
If you’re particularly short on time (and let’s face it who isn’t these days?) employing the use of strategic sourcing tools like The Drum’s Recommended Agency Register (or RAR for short!) can significantly reduce the risk and resources involved in selecting the right agency. These tools can provide like-for-like vital statistics that can speed up the research process immensely!
Step 2: Appraising an agency’s suitability for your project
So you’ve identified a handful of suitable agencies, that’s great! Now how do you make a shortlist…
#1 Find out where they are located
There are agencies right on your doorstep and ones hundreds of miles away. While you may decide that regular face-to-face meetings are a MUST for you and that your agency has to be well within physical reach, modern technology means you have the option to also choose an agency anywhere in the world, so don’t let geography limit your choices. It’s all about how you and your organisation prefer to work!
#2 Decide how big you want your account to be to your chosen agency
Assess the agencies existing clients and the scope of work they have carried out for them. Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a bigger pond? Dominating the agency’s client list could mean you prop up the infrastructure for all their clients, but being a smaller account for the agency means you run the risk of being overlooked at times.
#3 Follow them on social media
Do you find the agency’s social updates creative and inspiring? Do they seem to have a good company culture? A sense of personality? What type of content do they produce to market themselves? Do they produce insightful blog content regularly? Just like assessing a person’s LinkedIn and/or Facebook page before they come in for interview (yes, we all do it!) an agency’s social media (and their content generally!) should give you an idea of where their expertise lies, who their clients are and what inspires them.
#4 Take a peek inside their trophy cabinet
Its fair to say that creative animals are rather fond of awards. But awards, industry accreditations and recognition undoubtedly help distinguish an agency from the herd. A record of award-winning client work shows that an agency has the get up-and-go to deliver on its campaigns – and that they’re proud of the work they produce. Creative work is getting measurably more effective, and awards that measure creativity should be particularly useful in helping you narrow down your selection.
Step 3: Approach a handful of agencies
Don’t be shy! Once you’ve identified a shortlist of agencies that seem a good fit for your project, get in touch! But before you fall in love with and appoint your new agency, make sure you find out the following:
#1 Is what’s important to you, also important to them?
Whether you’re an established MD or an entrepreneur, you’re likely to have invested your heart and soul into your business – it’s an extension of who you are. On the flip side, if you’re working for an already established company as a Marketing Director or similar, you’ll most likely have some ambitious targets in place. It’s vital that not only does your prospective agency take the time to understand your business and your set goals, but also that they are passionate about your journey together and you can agree on a set of clear and achievable KPIs.
#2 Who will you be working with?
Make sure the people pitching to you are the one’s you will actually be working with on a day-to-day basis. Large agencies sometimes have ‘New Business’ Teams and once they win your account they may introduce a new account team without warning. With small-medium agencies, you are more likely to meet the people running the agency and have access to the most experienced, senior people. Will the Creative Director be in your first meeting?
#3 Does their previous work get you excited about the possibilities for your own brand?
Looking at the agency’s previous work and case studies will give you a good idea of where their key strengths lie. Don’t rule out agencies who aren’t willing to provide free creative at your first meeting. The pitch process is very artificial, superficial, and generally rewards agencies who have time on their hands – those who don’t regularly win work. Instead, ask the agency to explain the stories behind specific campaigns or projects – what was the brief from their client, what did their agency do, and what were the results? It’s also important to find out at this stage whether they have specific experience within your industry, but also to consider any issues regarding conflict with competitors. In some cases, an agency with no experience in your industry may be better, because it eliminates the danger of set thinking and gives the agency a fresh challenge, which is likely to get them all fired up. Designers love a new creative challenge and an all-new industry to move in will be most likely to have them thinking of ideas for your brand’s next campaign on their drive home!
#4 What about chemistry?
Trust your gut on this one. Before you appoint your agency, be sure to hold a ‘chemistry meeting’. It allows you to meet with the people you are likely to be working with in the flesh. Just like in any business relationship, sometimes there will be a natural chemistry, and other times, it will feel like two people set up on a blind date who realise they have absolutely nothing in common. This is also a perfect opportunity to discuss your goals and for the prospective agency to ask questions. Effort is important and a standout agency will be the one that has done research into what it is you need and how you are likely to get there. Do their ideas inspire you? Will they push you to get uncomfortable?
In summary, begin by working out your key objectives and how you think this project will meet them. Take your time identifying a small number of agencies that seem suitable and don’t rush the process of appointing your branding agency. Do your research and consider all options carefully because the more time you spend on finding the right branding agency, the more likely you’ll be happy and more successful in the long run! Most agency-client relationships that last long-term are based on an honest and open approach based on respect. Following the above steps is a great start to that relationship!