Marketing communications agencies come in all shapes and sizes, just like clients do. Finding the right marketing communications agency that fits your business and objectives is one of the most important strategic things you'll do. The agency you choose should be your partner, invested intellectually and emotionally, with the right tools, resources, and attitude to help you grow.
Here are some key things to consider when choosing from the universe of marketing communications agencies. 1. Does the marketing communications agency have a proven track-record of success? What does their work look like? Can they prove that their work can actually move the needle for your business? Many agencies have nice looking work, but when you look under the hood, did that work actually translate into new business for the client? This is something that any marketing communications agency worth its salt should be able to prove. Don't just go by their case studies, interview the people responsible for the work, and what the achievements of the project were for the client. In the end, you aren't getting into a relationship just for the agency to win awards for clever ideas; those clever ideas need to have benefited a client's business first and foremost.
2. Is the agency relatable and easy to get along with, without being pushovers? For some reason, many agencies can come across as (and actually are) snobbish, elitist, and distant. This could just be a sign of extreme confidence, but it can also be a sign of something more corrosive. You want an agency partner that is easy to get along with, who will collaborate with you, and who have a passion for your business. This might be rarest commodity of all: a team player. It's important to make sure you have a marketing communications agency who will really listen to you, work with you, take your ideas on board and bring their own great ideas to the table. Friendliness and a sense of humour should also be part of the package.
3. Does the marketing communications agency have the talent it takes to get you to the next level? Second question: are you getting access to that talent? In proposals and at pitch time, agencies will always trot out their A-team and the A-work. What many clients don't realize is that in most agencies there is a bait-and-switch when they win the work and get back to the office. That A-level Creative Director or Senior Writer is likely not on your project at all or very much, as they reserve those resources for the very top billing clients. It's likely that you will be given mid- to low-level resources, billed out at the top rates, with some basic, last-minute oversight by a more senior team. Ask the agency about this, and expect them to follow through if indeed they intend to give you their A-team.
4. Does the agency have good references? What do people say about the marketing communications agencies you're looking at? Do they have nothing but good things to say? This can be a red flag as agencies will stack references with their best and possibly even friends. Or do they have balanced things to say? I would be more inclined to lean towards an agency whose clients have balanced things to say. No agency is perfect, everyone can work on improving something. So bear this in mind when you're making final selections, and don't be worried if the references have some critiques; unless they warn you off of the company entirely for some reason, consider that the reference is being objective and thoughtful.
5. Is the agency open to different ways of compensation based on performance? Is the agency amenable to rewards based on performance? Many will not be. But those that are, who have done it before and put some skin in the game with their clients, are probably a good bet to give a second look. Of course, you want to be sure that they can and have performed, but performance bonusing or shares in your company, depending on the situation, can be a good way to motivate an agency in your direction with more of your interests in mind. 6. Many marketing communications agencies rely on a brand name to pull them through, while you might be getting their B team and being charged A prices. See point number three. This is so common and important that I repeat it; a guarantee of senior resources is something that you might want to get it in writing as part of your contract. 7. Do you have access to senior account leadership at the agency? Most marketing communications agencies have account people, which can mean three or four layers of intermediaries between you and the boss of bosses. Are you given access to the top leadership if and when you need it? It's not enough to have the Account Director or Supervisor's ear. You should be able to go to the top floor if there are critical issues that need to be addressed. This means, unless your account is big enough, you probably don't want to work with the largest agencies who probably won't give you the time or attention you expect.
Choosing from the myriad of marketing communications agencies out there can be daunting. But with a little effort, finding the one that's right for you will be worth the time.