You've decided it's time to hire an ad agency, or maybe it’s time for a new agency. Next comes the really hard part: where to start. We’ve cobbled together a list of tips to help you gather a good selection of agencies to invite to present, and a few to help you evaluate them afterward.
1) Don't Just Go For the Safe Bets
Larger, more established agencies may seem like the safest bet. They've got portfolio samples for days and a pitch team of 12 to wow you. Of course, you can include them in your selection, but make sure to select a more boutique agency or maybe one that's still got something to prove.
A lot of newer or smaller groups are doing some amazing work. Make sure you don't miss out on your perfect fit because it seems a little riskier. You may be surprised by what they pitch to you and by their overall capabilities. Sometimes these agencies are more agile and scrappier about their approach to the big picture.
2) An RFP Is Mandatory
Put together a solid RFP so you're getting responses that can be easily compared against one another. If you leave it too open-ended in terms of what your goals are or what your budget range is, you could get things back that are so wildly different you can't compare them.
Remember, these agencies are spending billable time creating a custom presentation and response for you. Letting them know they're on an even playing field when responding to an RFP will encourage even the smaller agencies to take the opportunity to pitch.
And make sure you really dig deep into the responses. How do they address potential challenges? Do they give explicit explanations as to how they can satisfy your requirements? Or do they glaze over potential issues with vague assurances? The latter can be a negative sign about their capabilities.
3) Evaluate the People, Not the Agency
There's definitely something to be said for the reputation of an agency. If they do amazing work, and your colleagues recommend them, they've probably got great people. Still, you should spend some time getting to know the people you'd be working with day-to-day.
Treat it as if you were hiring a new employee. What are their backgrounds, interests and passions? Do you thoroughly enjoy the process of working with them through this decision? Did they surprise you at all? Do you feel a spark or exciting chemistry? Do you feel comfortable with the way they arrived at their solution and their rationale for the end product? These are important questions to answer before you make a final decision on your agency of choice.
4) This is a Partnership
Remember: They are evaluating you just as you're evaluating them. They'll also decide if they want to work with you and if they think the relationship is a good fit. So it’s just as important for you to know how you can put your best brand foot forward and provide a good selection process for them.
Think about why you want to join forces with an agency or a find new agency. Don’t hold back questions that may reveal potential problems or open discussions toward solutions. Also, make sure you present your business and your brand exactly as it is and let them know your visions for the future. You want to create a partnership that works, so they will need to understand your brand well.
5) Consider The Future
Does the agency have any longer term clients? If they can keep other businesses happy and continue to make them money, they likely have a good level of flexibility and can change with the times.
Finding an agency with a mix of talent in digital and non-digital work can be challenging, but is worth it in the long run. So ask about the length of their client relationships and dig deep into the scope of those campaigns. Find out how well they can get on board with emerging techniques and technologies to help you sell your brand. You want to find an agency that can handle traditional and digital marketing initiatives, but will also look to the future and embrace anything on the horizon. It’s that kind of agility that will pay off today and tomorrow.