The decision to hire a marketing agency comes with many responsibilities and ramifications. Regardless of the scope of work you are outsourcing, the agency you choose will be an extension of your company and brand. Having been on the agency side for 25 years, I have seen my share of best practices, as well as the good, bad, and downright ugly. Here are 15 key considerations CMOs must take into account as they embark on their agency search.
1. What qualities are you looking for in an agency? You’re probably familiar with the semi-tongue-in-cheek adage: “Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two.” But it’s a great place to start when building your consideration set for an agency. If you’re looking for a design shop that can quickly and inexpensively knock out logos or execute your vision, that’s one set of agencies. If you’re looking for a partner with enough industry experience to be knowledgeable and thoughtful about your business, that’s another.
2. What are your expectations for what work the agency will execute? Today, many companies have their own internal marketing and design resources. Ensure that you’re thinking about that division of labor to ensure you hire an agency that can round out your internal resources and get the most efficiency from both teams.
3. What is your budget? It’s OK if it’s small. But be upfront with prospective agency partners about the budget you have to allocate against the scope of work you’ve identified. If the agency feels it’s not enough, they’ll likely say so out of the gate, so you can either have a more productive conversation about what you can get for your budget with that agency, or decide not to waste your time or theirs and move on to other prospective partners.
4. Do I have the internal resources to manage an agency? Outside of a straight-up consultancy, even the most turnkey agency engagements rely on the client for access to resources and approvals in order to keep a project moving forward. If you don’t have the time—or a team member with the time—to review the deliverables you’re about to receive, you still won’t meet your deadlines, no matter how fast the agency is able to turn things around for you.
5. Circulate an RFP. Define what you are looking for and interview agencies. Putting your request in writing is a good exercise, and meeting potential marketing partners face-to-face is essential. You will be working with them very closely, so you have to enjoy and respect them.
6. Use the RFP responses to assess how the agency approaches the work, not just what they submit. If you believe in a collaborative partnership, then you know that the best work will occur through the process of sharing knowledge/insights and working together. Provide the agency with your primary research and assess how well they apply those insights toward what they deliver back.
7. Interview several agencies. Look beyond the paper and the creative. Look beyond the personalities. How do they think? What do they believe?
8. Vet your selections. Talk to their clients (if possible) and check the BBB and COC.
9. Take time to plan. Don’t let a deadline force you to jump into something without having thought it through. Rushing forward is of no benefit if you don’t know where you are going.
10. Know your mission. Know your challenges. Know your needs and goals. Let the agency recommend the best marcom strategy for achieving them.
11. Know and be passionate about your business. Agencies know and are passionate about theirs. The element of respect on both sides is key to a long and lasting relationship.
12. Figure out how much location matters to you. Do you feel like you need to have regular face time with your agency? Your answer to this question will determine where you look for one.
13. When assessing an agency’s work, don’t let yourself be blinded by sexy, high-budget production quality. Just because an agency has a big budget to work with doesn’t mean their end product is necessarily smart or strategically aligned.
14. Determine whether you’re comfortable working with an agency that pushes you. It’s important to let someone lead you outside of your comfort zone. That’s why you hire an agency! You shouldn’t just be looking for an order-taker. Just make sure that your agency partner is thoughtful during this process.
15. Hiring an agency is about the three Cs: chemistry, creative, and capabilities. Without chemistry, the relationship won’t last. Creative will separate your brand from the competition. And without capabilities, smarts, and resources, you don’t have anything.
Read related article, "CMOs, Agencies Take Relationship To The Next Level."