June 8, 2018
If you are the person responsible for selecting an agency to work with, hopefully this article will save you time and money in the long run.
This is number one for a reason. It's the most important by far. Business partnerships are just like a marriage – when they work well, they’re fruitful for both parties. The focus should be on finding an agency that is looking to work with you for a long time and not just as a quick one hit wonder. Forget awards, shiny offices and big brands on the portfolio. Look at the underlying core values of an agency and try to find one that is compatible with your own vision, mission and values. Perhaps even consider what is best for the agency. You need a partner not a supplier. What’s the difference? A partner cares about your organisation as if it was their own. They see the value in the long term. They make decisions based on what’s good for you as well as themselves. They adopt long term thinking. If you want a successful partner, the relationship must be win-win. Make sure both parties win out of the partnership or it will fall on its face very quickly.
I like to think of it like this; if a client was holding a party at home, a partner would be on the dance-floor but a supplier would be holding the canapes.
Always review their existing portfolio, this is their shop window. The work they have produced previously will give you an idea of the style and quality of work on offer. However, don’t just look for big names. There are a lot of agencies out there that stick a Nike logo on their portfolios just because Matt in the design team is married to someone who once worked for a small company that was bought over by Nike. Sadly, that kind of thing goes on a lot in our industry. So with that in mind, don't put all your eggs in the ‘flashy client’ basket. The same applies for the amount of clients a company has. As the age old but incredibly viable saying goes, always seek quality over quantity. I actually think you can tell more about an agency from the work they have produced for smaller clients than you can from the work they have produced for huge corporate clients. Having to serve a demanding customer with a smaller budget can be much more challenging than working for a corporate outfit with lots of time and money.
In this modern day world of statistics and data driven decision making, we often overlook a very important part of making decisions. The intangible element of decision making - your ‘gut feel’. I believe a ‘gut feel’ is something very valuable and formed from years of experience. You might not be able to articulate why you feel a certain way, but the lessons learned from years of trial and error in many different aspects of your life are swaying you in a certain direction. Don’t get me wrong, I still very much value a considered and data driven approach but at the same time remember to trust your gut. It does feel that way for a reason.
The tender process is a popular approach to connecting buyer to supplier in our industry but in my opinion, it’s not a very fair one. I struggle to see the benefit for either side. If you have no other option than to ‘go out to tender’ due to an internal policy, then I would recommend commissioning an agency to write the tender for other agencies to pitch for. More often than not, the wrong author can result in the real requirements of a project not being met, mostly due to a lack of understanding. When this happens, nobody really gets what they want. In this day and age, unless you are working in the industry day-to-day, keeping up with the changes in technology and following the latest trends, you’re already old hat when it comes to writing a tender. Even as little as a month or two out of the game can have huge repercussions further down the line of a project. My experience tells me that consultants need help in writing tenders and agencies are best placed to offer this. Basically, the only time I would recommend tendering is when the tender has been written as a collaborative effort alongside those who know the industry being ‘tendered to’ inside out.
I appreciate that budget is a big factor when choosing to form a business partnership. However, I suggest that the budget question is left til the very end. I think you should be finding the right agency based on their values and the above points, then trying hard to make the budget work for both parties. I don't think it makes sense to do it the other way around.
And... remember to go with your gut!