Written by: Cecilia Bonnevier
Partnering with a marketing or PR agency is an important decision. The wrong partner may lead to disappointing results, wasted money and (what’s worse!) wasted time - time that could have been used to build your brand, get in front of your audience, and drive revenue and growth for your business.
Knowing what to look for when choosing an agency will increase your chances of finding the perfect fit and help you achieve both your short-term and long-term growth goals.
Look for alignment with your objectives
The easiest way to find the right agency for your business is to look at how aligned the agency’s experience, expertise and specialty area are to your objectives. Whilst it might seem obvious, it’s important to get clear on why you are outsourcing part of your marketing or PR to an agency and what you’re hoping to achieve through the partnership. When it comes to this part of the brief, the more explicit you are in defining what success looks like, the better you’ll be able to judge the potential partners.
In practice this means you should ideally have your brief written up even before you go looking for potential agencies. The briefing document is a way to make sure your long-term partnership (or short-term project) is off to a good start.
Here are a few things to answer in your brief:
- What’s your primary reason(s) for wanting to engage an agency? E.g. resourcing, not the right in-house skills etc.
- What are your marketing and communication objectives? Start from the top with strategic business objectives, and work your way down to the objectives of this specific campaign/project/engagement
- What would you like to achieve? Try to be as specific as possible when describing your ideal outcomes
- Who are your stakeholders and how do you want to engage them?
- Who are your target audience(s) and how do want to communicate with them?
- What specific services do you need? E.g. strategic communication, media relations, social media advertising, events, stakeholder relations and so on
Getting clear on the above will help you stay focussed on what you really need from an agency and is your touchstone during the vetting process.
For example, depending on your objectives, it may be most important that your agency knows your specific industry and stakeholders, or that it specialises in digital marketing, or that it has a great track record in placing articles in the publications your audience reads.
You get what you pay for
Now, this is not to say that you should always pay more or that the most expensive agency is always the better choice. Rather, it’s a continuation of the point made above about the importance of looking for alignment with your objectives.
The most renowned communication agencies in the world are often also the most expensive. Agencies are just like any other business – a great reputation provides the opportunity to charge a premium price. But a great reputation is also built over time, by delivering great products or great work. It’s very hard to fake a great reputation. So, in that sense, you’re paying a premium price for a service that you can be fairly sure is going to be good, or even great.
On the flip side, there is no point in paying a premium price for a great service that you don’t need. If you are looking for growth hacking and guerrilla style stunts on a shoestring budget (start-ups, I’m looking at you), it makes little sense to go with a large agency that works with global, household names. Why? Because you will inevitably be a small fish in a big pond, and you will likely not be a prioritised account.
Secondly, if the agency has earned its place at the table with these global brands, it’s likely not going to budge too much on fees. So, while you may get a lot of experience and highly skilled expertise for your money, your smaller budget will disappear fast.
Thirdly, the expertise you’re buying might be great for (for example) creating thumb-stopping, jaw-dropping brand campaigns on million-dollar budgets, but will they be able to help you drive product sales on a tight budget, and with zero brand recognition?
Conversely, say you’re a medium to large brand challenging global competitors that are spending a substantial portion of their marketing budgets on awareness campaigns in your market. Then it makes a lot of sense to partner with an agency that understands how the big fish play and has the skills to produce high quality brand campaigns.
Does chemistry matter?
To put it simply - yes. One might think that liking your account manager or the creative director/strategist/communications specialist working on your campaign makes less of a difference if they are great at what they do but having good chemistry with your agency really does matter. The ‘just get’s it’ factor really does make a positive difference.
Whether you are a marketing director, head of corporate communications or national brand manager, your job is likely very stressful at times and you’re under pressure to deliver results. If your company has been through a challenging time because of COVID-19, chances are budgets have also been cut and your current revenue target seems a world away. Knowing that you have an agency partner on your side, rooting for your success, may help to take away some of that pressure.
On the other hand, if that agency relationship is adding to your stress, it’s worth asking if you can restructure your account team or it might be time look elsewhere.
A new world of opportunity
One positive aspect of COVID-normal is our (for many of us) newfound skills to manage relationships and projects remotely. Previously, we would often choose a local agency to make project meetings and workshops more practical.
As we have adjusted to Zoom calls and digital working relationships, it has opened up a lot of opportunity on the agency front. Do you need a specialist agency and the best one for you is located in another city? That’s not too much of a problem anymore. Are you launching in a new market and want to work with an agency that understands the audience and has the right connections? No need to go with a global (often more expensive) agency – working with a local one could work too.
“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” – Stephen R. Covey
In summary, when choosing an agency partner, it’s important to start with what you’re trying to achieve and what is likely to help you get there - and try not to get too focused on the dollar figure or swept away by beautiful presentations.
Be clear on what your objectives are and then work your way backwards to find an agency that can truly deliver on those.