The Creative Agency Search Primer: How to find your best fit in a commoditized market.
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
Many companies benefit from long-term relationships with their marketing agencies. Afterall, long-term invested relationships are the cornerstone of trust, faith, and an expectation that the agency you work with will deliver what they promise and perhaps over-deliver added value to insure their client's loyalty.
Then there are client/agency relationships that have run its course. Maybe there are indicators and red flags when it's time to re-examine your agency partnership and consider searching for a fresh marketing partner.
Examples may include:
the agency starts being more difficult to work with.
trusted agency team members leave the agency, and you have to re-educate unfamiliar staff and gel with new personalities.
their creative looks "phoned in" and is no longer as fresh as it once was.
small mistakes that you once overlooked are becoming too frequent and impossible to ignore.
client service and communication become noticeably weaker, and accessibility is an issue.
the agency takes on too much business and suddenly, deadlines get stretched or missed.
Ideally, an outside marketing agency will be able to fix these problems so that your marketing department and product managers can focus on their true objective: maximizing brand awareness, converting leads to sales, and increasing revenue. This is what we refer to as the long-term relationship factor. The happier an agency is with its clients, the more likely they are to stay.
When looking for the right agency to grow your business, knowing what you’re looking for is half the effort:
1. Research helps you avoid a bad match. It's always a good idea to look at multiple marketing agencies, whether you hire a large global ad agency, a mid-level marketing agency, or a small local firm. Some businesses want to partner with larger firms because they believe that the services offered will be of higher quality than what a smaller, less robust agency can offer. The perception that a large, full-service agency will solve every problem may outweigh all other concerns . . . but often that is not the case. Research tells us that a lower cost, smaller marketing agencies may be a better alternative as many firms are now virtual offices, thanks to the pandemic, and their reach for experienced, niche talent has expanded significantly.
2. Practice and experience are crucial. Some companies hire agencies thinking that their employees have the appropriate experience for your industry. It is often not the case, though. Try to interview agency candidates who have worked in similar industries before and ask them to show you case studies of work similar to the projects you’ll be assigning. Feel free to ask for client references.
3. Two factors that are important when looking for a new marketing agency are the company's current annual revenue and the time it takes their associates to ramp up. If these two figures don’t match up to meet your company's growth plan, then the agency may not be capable of meeting the demands of your business goals. Also, it is best to see how long it takes an agency to get up and running. To do this, ask them about their immersion process to learn about their client’s business or industry or how many weeks they spent before starting work on the client's projects.
4. Take the time to learn about their typical onboarding and client success process. When an agency illustrates a clear process for how they will support and service your brand, you know they’re built on a solid foundation of experience and structure and learning about these two factors is crucial if your company wants to work with a marketing agency that can meet and exceed your goals for the upcoming year. For example, if the agency does not provide a support program for its clients, then it will not be a good fit for your company. The program should be specific about your company's marketing efforts and should include the steps needed to ensure success. Also, it is important that the support program is flexible enough to adjust to changes in your company's goals and objectives . . . in addition to being clear about what needs to be successful.
5. We all think, “Yes, I'm looking for exceptional quality, but I need something that is affordable too.” Some companies may think that the best way to choose the right agency is to get a quote from broader-known firms in the industry. The problem with this approach is that these agencies are often overpriced. Someone has to pay the overhead for multiple brick and mortar offices that staff hundreds of employees. In fact, it might work out better for your company to shop around and find an agency that will charge a reasonable price. Your company could also look for an agency that can help you achieve your marketing goals but also charges less money in comparison to competitors.
There are ways to cut costs through strategic planning, management techniques, and by setting a reasonable budget . . . and many of these techniques do not involve cutting corners or giving up quality control.
When price is the deal breaker for choosing one agency over another, there are ways you can further evaluate how your money should be spent:
1. Plan early. The more you know about your marketing goals, the more it will be clear how often you need your marketing agency to create branded materials, ads, content, and media plans to round out your marketing efforts. This way, you can easily control which marketing initiatives could be managed in-house by your marketing coordinators and which ones could benefit more from an agency's creative and strategic expertise. Also, ask targeted questions to determine if an agency has the capabilities and talent to help your company reach its marketing and revenue goals.
2. Use your resources. Your marketing agency might have a team of highly trained, creative experts at its disposal. With the right technology and management in place, you will be able to know where your money is going and in which projects . . . despite the fact that someone else is doing the job for you.
3. Think about your budget, then set it with a good plan in place. Companies should always think about how much money they want to spend without thinking about how much each marketing campaign could cost them. Be upfront and honest with your agency about your budget. It's quite common for companies not to disclose their budgets for new initiatives or branding projects, but it can create additional work for the agency to quote you accurately and create a scope of work that fits your budget.
Often times, the objectives clients set for initiatives require more money than they're able to spend. When clients are forthright with their budget limitations, it gives the agency a chance to create a project scope that maximizes every dollar budgeted and sets reasonable expectations for deliverables. To find the right balance between budget and quality, companies must think about how much money they can afford without compromising their goals and objectives for that year. Marketing plans are often set to performance metrics, so ROI can be forecasted with realistic expectations.
4. Check their performance track record of the marketing agency you’re vetting. Another way to ensure that a marketing agency has the right experience and credentials to help your company is by checking on its past clients' results. Ask if it has collaborated with similar clients before or if it could provide resources that could help your company achieve its goals, in addition to providing valuable information about the industries it worked in. Also, find out how long an agency has been in business and ask how many projects it has completed within the last two years. This information should be enough to give you a clear idea of what the agency can provide for your business with its help.
5. Ask about long-term contracts or sustained retainer agreements with marketing agencies. Many companies want their marketing partners to agree to long-term contracts with them because they do not want to be in the agency-replacement business. This way, they know that their marketing agency will put the full weight of its staff and efforts toward meeting your marketing, branding, and sales goals. Make sure your agency of choice has the expertise, stamina, and motivation to provide elevated, sustained service for the long haul.
6. Narrow your agency choices to those with clear industry experience. By doing this, you’re reducing the ramp-up time and effort you typically would expect to invest if your agency’s staff has client and product expertise in your industry space. Marketing agencies can only provide you with services if they have the right knowledge and experience to meet your company's goals and objectives in addition to providing high quality strategic thinking and effective creative. If the agency does not understand your industry or can’t immediately appreciate the nomenclature, then this might not be a good fit for your business no matter how good their rates are.
8. Always request a full capabilities presentation that includes a menu of service offerings, displays the personality of their culture, contains relevant portfolio samples of their work and a high-level view how you will be managed according to their customer journey process. This is especially important if you are looking for a multi-disciplined agency that can carry a heavier variety and load of project types.
9. Negotiate on price before signing a contract. Remember that you do not need to sign a long-term contract with an agency right away if it means that you will end up paying more money in the future because of the low initial price. Take care to understand that if your budget is significantly lower than the agency’s fee, that a compromise in project scope can be achieved to satisfy meeting your goals, your budget, and their investment in your success.
10. Follow through on promises made by marketing agencies. If an agency promises to provide you with excellent service, then it has to actually follow through on these promises. Negotiating on price and signing a contract are important for getting the results that you need in addition to ensuring that the agency does not have other priorities in mind.
In closing, even if all of these considerations are employed, sometimes, it just comes down to mutual values and a shared chemistry, knowing the trust you’ve put into your marketing agency will meet your objectives and grow your company’s net worth.
About Lisa Silverman:
Silverman is principal of Brand-Device, LLC. As a senior account director, branding and content strategist for over 30 years, Silverman has stewarded regional and global brands with an unparalleled skill set and a proven record of success in team leadership, driving growth strategy, executing marketing communication plans and creating billions of dollars in ROI for healthcare and financial clients.
About Brand Device, LLC:
Brand Device merges intelligent, strategic branding solutions with powerful, imaginative, and interactive creative driven by a team of leading healthcare marketing veterans with a rich history in promoting medical devices, hospital products, nutrition, health institutions, pharmaceuticals, direct-to-patient and physician practices.