One of the most important decisions you can make as a marketer is finding a marketing agency to partner with that can generate great ideas, as well as manage and implement projects expertly and efficiently. And perhaps most important, help you be successful with measurable marketing results. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? After all, there are hundreds of agencies out there begging for your business. Many of them are fantastic. Some just will not be a good fit. Still others will be disasters-in-the-making.
Entering into a union with a bad agency partner not only can end in divorce, but can also be expensive, embarrassing, even get you fired. Yet, it happens all the time. What are some of the straws that break the agency partnership’s back? This post will give reasons for hiring or firing and agency, as determined through a recent survey by CMA, and will spell out steps in making your decision.
A recent survey by CMA identified the following:
Reasons for firing an agency:
1) Poor marketing or sales results
2) Agency advice is weak (marketing, strategy, creative)
3) Agency fees are excessive or disputed
4) Agency is not in tune with new media (SEO, social, blogging, etc)
5) Agency hired by prior management
Reasons for hiring an agency:
1) Need a specialist for a specific marketing project
2) Get new ideas for marketing
3) Want a new partner that can achieve results
4) New managers/management not tied to old partners
As in everything, due diligence can help prevent the former scenario and make the latter a success. There are several avenues that will lead you to potential agencies. One of the best is through referral/networking. Searching online can net a lot of names, but narrow down by reviewing results-oriented case studies on agency sites. Or, if you have the budget, you can hire an agency search firm to help you. But before you do anything, determine key drivers.
Phase I: Establish Selection Criteria
- Realistically assess your budget vs. agency size
- Decide if category or industry expertise is critical
- Determine if specific marketing skills are important (creative, internet, direct, PR, etc)
- Consider geography. Will there be frequent on-site meetings?
- If you have an in-house marketing department, think about how an agency will work with it and augment it
- Do a mini SWOT analysis to determine what your new agency can leverage and/or improve
Phase II: Identify Potential Agency Candidates
- Depending on the scale of your marketing program, narrow down to 5-10 or more agency candidates that fit your criteria and review their websites thoroughly
- Next, make contact with the most promising candidates and set-up phone interviews
- Send an written request for proposal (RFP) to agency candidates who did well in the phone interviews
- Conduct on-site visits and/or request agency presentations from a shortlist of agency candidates that did well with RFP responses
- Request the team that will be working on your account be in the presentation—know the players!
- Do ask for budget parameters for the types of marketing projects and programs you will be assigning
- Recruit a selection committee that, depending on program scale, is at least two and no more than 5 managers
- Use a scorecard or ranking on 5-10 criteria to add objectivity, but also consider your “gut” instincts
Phase III: Choose Your Agency!
At this stage, be sure to have internal discussions with your selection committee. While committee members should rank or score agency candidates individually to avoid a dominant personality imposing his or her will, committee members should openly share their results and reasoning.
This group meeting and process should deliver the clear winner. However, if it’s down to two viable choices, invite them to duke it out by executing the same test project. Then, evaluate them based on responsiveness, strategy and ideas, creative execution, project management and budget.
May the best agency win! Now, all that’s left is to deliver the good news.
Other great Agency Selection Resources
- Webbiquity – How to Choose a Marketing Agency (Ad Agency)
- Inc. – How to Choose an Advertising Agency