Interviewing New Agencies? Check Out These Tips For Finding The Perfect Match
Finding the right branding agency for long term partnership is a lot like dating. You need a reliable team that gets you and delivers on their promises. You want an agency with experience, but you don’t want to work with someone who has a reputation for getting around. You want your ideas to be heard, but you also want a proactive team that can handle things without your micromanaging.
Burned by your last agency? Jumping back in the game can be a massive headache (not unlike the kind you get after your first night out as a single-ton). As they say, the best way to get over an agency is to replace them with someone hotter (and smarter, and funnier, and who you would actually enjoy watching the game with).
Before jumping into bed with the first agency with a slick pitch, take a second to get clear on your needs–your big WHY. Here are 4 things to consider when you’re ready to start searching again.
Size Does Matter
Maybe in the past you put too much trust in a freelancer, or you busied up a big agency’s schedule with a slew of small piecemeal projects. Consider your options based on your needs. Be honest with yourself, and know whether your vision requires a big agency, a freelancer or something in between. If you need a freelancer, research sites like Elance and Upwork, and chat with your network to see if someone has a reputable freelancer in their back pocket. Find out if candidates have experience with clients in your same industry. See examples of their work to be sure they can make even the most boring aspects of your brand stand out.
If you need a big agency, get your hands on some client reviews, take a good hard look at their reputation and look at the numbers. With big agencies, understand that you don’t get the whole staff for your account. There are teams within the agency that have a smaller group of designers, copywriters, strategists and web designers. Ask how many people will be dedicated to your account.
Red flag: If an agency promises, “we have 75 people on our staff and they will all be working for you.” That’s probably not true, unless you’re Tylenol. Then it might be true.
Do Your Timeline Expectations Match?
An agency’s time management and processes will reflect the type of clients they typically work with. It is in your best interest to know if you fit that description. Ask yourself: Do I need an agency that can take calls at 2am, work at a fast pace, and piece out ambitious goals into doable projects on a tight deadline? Whether your work is mostly seasonal or you need an agency that can withstand a lot of rush projects, ask the right questions to make sure the agency has your best interests in mind — and the processes to make good on their word. Avoid Yes-man agencies with some pointed questions:
- What are your processes for communicating timelines to me?
- How do you plan to prevent standard projects from becoming rushed?
- Can I take a look at your marketing and content strategy processes?
- What is your timeline for standard projects (printed pieces, digital marketing, etc.)?
You want an agency that can think on behalf of your brand and help you foresee projects that could benefit your current goals.
Red flag: If you don’t leave the first meeting with a clear understanding of the next steps, then don’t expect them to be clear as your partnership continues. Keep searching.
In What Area Do They Specialize?
Understanding how an agency got to where they are can help you gauge whether they’re the right fit. Most agencies evolved like Agency X or Agency Y:
- Agency X started with a specialization in one area (PR, Branding, Web Development, Design) and then grew to offer a more comprehensive list of services. Did your last agency say they were a PR team but that they also do branding?
- Agency Y started with a broad knowledge, then became specialized in one area over time. Did your last agency say they can do it all but they really aren’t masters in any specific field research?
Following the agency’s past will give you some insight on their evolution and whether that aligns with your needs. You’re brand is evolving too, so choose an agency that specializes in the areas that will help you reach your current goals.
Red flag: An agency claims they can do anything and everything, but they don’t have case studies to back up their claim … and they want full payment before you get started.
How Much Decision Making Do You Plan On Doing?
Was your last agency an order taker when you needed a proactive creative arm? Be honest about how hands on–or hands free–you like to be. Then find an agency or partner that can support that.
Maybe you’re frustrated because your last team didn’t budge unless you handed them the Moby Dick of briefs. Now you want a team that can think for themselves on behalf of your brand. Or maybe that’s not you at all. You prefer to be completely hands on but your last agency wouldn’t even let you see the strategy calendar. Your level of input and overall satisfaction will depend on your budget and how well you communicate your needs.
After vetting agencies, you might decide it’s better to hire a part-time creative associate in-house. Whether you have a clear vision and you’re comfortable communicating that upfront, or you often find yourself telling agencies to “do what they think is best,” know what you want out of the relationship because that will dictate your agency experience and what they are going to provide.
Red flag: During the initial meeting, you immediately see there are too many generals at the table, not enough doers.