Selecting a marketing firm for a long-term relationship can be tricky. It isn’t just about making sure they have strong project managers, writers and experience among their ranks. It’s really about entrusting a third party to understand your brand and communicate it as passionately as you would.
If you’ve ever watched old TV shows depicting ad agency environments (remember good old McMahon and Tate on Bewitched?), you know there was a time when agencies frequently pitched to potential new clients by presenting great concepts, messaging and creative at no charge. It’s called doing work “on spec,” and as marketing has grown smarter and more sophisticated, it’s less and less likely to happen.
If you’re seeking an agency, you won’t find the best partners by trying to have them do on spec as part of your RFP. It’s like telling a prospective boyfriend or girlfriend, you’d like to see what gift they would pick out for your first anniversary before you’ve had the first date, forcing them to research your life and then take a wild stab with no information on what would make sense. Not only does working on spec take tremendous time, resources and money, but it’s unlikely you’ll get concepts that differentiate and support your brand without strong research behind it.
Based on my experience, here are some better ideas on what you should ask of any marketing agency before hiring them:
1. Background and experience: Find out if the agency has worked in your industry and can hit the ground running with insights on the audiences you’re targeting. Most industries have nuances about their markets and/or are highly regulated. If you can find a firm with that background, all the better. But if you can’t, it doesn’t mean you need to rule anyone out. Agencies by nature are comprised of versatile people with varying backgrounds who are quick studies when it comes to learning a new industry. Plus many experiences can be transferred across industries.
2. Process: How will the prospective agency go about learning and/or developing your brand strategy to ensure it accurately delivers on an overall brand promise and visually translates that effectively and creatively? Every agency should have a well-defined, thorough process for developing and/or learning and supporting your brand. If they have partners they use as part of that process (ie research firms, etc.), make sure that’s clearly defined.
3. Past work: Whatever you’re requesting they create, ask for examples of past work that demonstrate that expertise. But don’t get caught up if they haven’t exactly produced a video highlighting, say, the reproductive system of cows like you want them to create. You just want to be sure they’ve been there done that in the realm of video production and could handle your project (even if they’ve never been on a dairy farm.)
4. Capacity & Timeline: If you’re asking for a 2-year multi-million dollar campaign to be developed, you’d best be sure the project team assigned to you has capacity and depth to carry the project through to completion. There is nothing more frustrating than finding the ideal firm, getting them up-to-speed and then waiting forever on turnaround time. Define up front if there are project milestones you need to hit and ask the agency to share how they manage production and capacity.
5. Budget: Everyone wants to price shop, but without at least a range, you won’t really get an apples-to-apples comparison. A Ford Escort and a Lexus LS will both get you from A to B, but the experience will be entirely different. Let the firms know if you’re in domestic or import land, so they can quote the project appropriately.
So, as an owner of a Cincinnati-based marketing agency for 8 years, there’s my advice to those seeking an agency partner. If you need a partner and think we can help, give us a call or shoot us an email.