Having worked agency and client-side during my marketing career, I’ve seen a wide variety of briefs for agencies ranging from Financial PR and Annual Report provision through to consumer facing web design and exhibition stand builds.
Yet despite the diversity of the projects – in terms of budgets, deliverables and the profiles of client organisations, success or otherwise often came down to a fairly common set of criteria. And in my experience, it’s rarely the glitziest, most expensive looking agency that gets the gig (and when it is, the projects often fail).
Here’s my take on ensuring you pick the right agency for the job:
1: Don’t be blinded by “bling”
There is alway something seductive about seeing your brand re-imagined in story boards and funky creatives, and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a glossy pitch document. But it’s always worth looking behind the gloss: If there seems to have been more time and effort spent on making things look pretty than how things are actually going to be delivered, this could well be an indication of where the agencies weaknesses lie. Dig below the surface, ask the awkward questions and make sure they’ve actually answered the brief in full. The last thing you want to do is appoint an agency purely based on pretty pictures.
2: Do they “get it”?
You’ve probably spent hours writing a thorough brief to be sent out to your chosen agencies, so you’d expect them to have spent a similar amount of time reading and understanding it, right? You’d be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) by the number of pitches I’ve sat through where the presenter just hasn’t grasped the issue needing to be tackled. I’ve had people try to sell me in to creating sales presentations in Keynote, despite being categorically told everything needed to be windows based. I’ve also had agencies try and apply B2C metrics and marketing techniques to complex B2B problems. And this to me is a deal breaker – If you’re in a complex market – or just an unusual one – an external consultant or agent who really understands your sector, your company & products, and even how to help you manage any internal politics can be worth their weight in gold. That’s why here at Now, we start most of our client programmes with a #hackday – it gives everyone a chance to work collaboratively, and in real-time to achieve a set of well defined goals and outputs.
3: Do they fit culturally with your organisation?
Creative types can be a funny bunch, and some agencies seem to have developed a kind of group-think that means their employees are perpetually in an agency “bubble” “we’re creative, we’re supposed to be different” seems to be the mantra among many.
Now there’s a lot to be said for bringing in different perspectives – especially if you’re looking to breathe new life into a tired product or brand, but there is a flipside: There needs to be a connection between agency and client if projects are really to deliver great results. If your sales team or your CEO can’t connect with your chosen agency, they’re unlikely to buy into the work they produce. And likewise, if agency staff can’t appreciate the dynamics of your organisation (sign-off procedures, pace that things happen, internal politics, etc) then they’re likely to get frustrated and lose enthusiasm. Taking the time to introduce the agency team to a other internal stakeholders that they might interact with will help you gauge this.
4:Have they got diverse experience?
Often, the first thing on a potential client’s wishlist for an agency is direct sector experience. And that makes an awful lot of sense – an agency with a track record in your industry will need to spend less time getting to grips with the market and will hopefully tick off some of the items above as a result. However, you really can have too much of a good thing: Exposure to a range of sectors generally means a wider base of knowledge and creativity as lessons learnt in one sector can inform decision making in another. Too much exposure to a single market can actually be detrimental – it stifles creativity and can lead to a temptation to roll-out standardised” solutions to clients. That’s why we make a conscious effort to involve all our staff across the sectors we work in and encourage cross-pollination of ideas across our clients in Sports, Learning Tech and Security.
5: Don’t expect the finished article at the pitch (and don’t ask for it!)
From an agency perspective, a client asking to see creatives at the pitch stage can strike fear into your heart. Clients don’t do themselves or their selected agencies any favours by insisting on this. The problem is, no matter what caveat is given about “not being judged on it” it puts a marker in the sand which can become a real hangup for everyone in the room. What starts off as a quick few first thoughts to keep a client happy can soon take on a life of its own and take away from what else is being discussed and presented. Don’t run the risk: treat pitches a bit like a first date – you should be looking for some chemistry rather than thinking about what your kids might look like.