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The Right Approach to Hiring an Ad Agency

Here's how to best conduct an agency search, so you can get real apples-to-apples comparisons and find the best partner.

The Right Approach to Hiring an Ad Agency
Hiring an ad agency for your company can be simultaneously fun and overwhelming. Done right, it can be the beginning of an enduring, successful partnership. Done wrong, it can be nothing more than a failed experiment resulting in unachieved goals, burnt bridges and wasted budgets.

I’ve observed many companies that have done it right and, sadly, many that have done it very, very wrong. Doing it wrong can hurt you and your company even more than the agencies involved, so I’ve developed a checklist of things to consider before you involve agencies in a review.

Some factors to consider during initial screening are agency size, geography, relevant category experience, creative results and in-house capabilities that align with your needs and agency type.
  • If you have six agencies in the mix and one of them has 300 people and another has 12, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If one agency is full service and another is a PR specialty firm or digital-only shop, you may not have a clear view of what you need.
  • If you want to reposition your brand and have visions of Apple dancing in your head, you may need to be a bit more realistic.
Be clear about what you truly need and stay committed to your criteria.

Don’t simply get recommendations from friends, call agencies whose names you recognize or use a Google search. Research websites, review client case studies and work samples, and scour industry press and agency profiles. Do they have other clients in your industry? Do they have a strong team of people who’ve done relevant work and solved similar marketing challenges?

Try to contact only those agencies that best align with the search criteria you’ve developed internally. Including agencies for any other reason is likely a waste of their time and yours. 

Don’t begin contacting agencies until you know exactly what each step in the process will look like. Know things like timing, the number of agencies you’ll include, the desired outcome at the end of each round, and any assignments along the way. 

Before you go looking for a horse, make sure the cart is in order. Be prepared with a briefing document that includes:

Company Overview.
This may already be on the internet, but the more insights you can add, the better, as this gets everyone on the same page.

Situation Analysis.
Trends, competitive landscapes, any current or past agency issues, and opportunities and challenges you’re facing—that you believe marketing can realistically solve.

Scope of Work.
Agencies can’t tell you what it’ll take to fix your problem if the problem isn’t clearly defined.
And if you’ve already got an inkling of what you think it’s really going to take get results and win your business, put it all out there.

Agency Selection Criteria.
Make sure you and the agencies understand exactly what criteria they will be evaluated against, and stick with it. It eliminates chaos, keeps everyone honest and helps you in every part of the decision-making process. 

It’s unfair to agencies, and to you, to start a review process without all of your cards on the table regarding your marketing investment. This will get you more realistic proposals and allow you to make a real apples-to-apples comparison of service levels and deliverables.

Process Timeline.
Providing a well-planned timeline of events will ensure an efficient process and give agencies a heads-up for potential timing issues or travel conflicts—just like it does in any client-agency relationship.

Give agencies enough time and information to put their best foot forward, and don’t make them jump through unnecessary hoops. It’s in your best interest to plan ahead, be accessible and responsive, and have as much direct contact with the agencies as possible in order to make a thoughtful, informed selection.

Every agency will show you great work, compelling case studies and offer their best client references. In the end, however, this is a relationship no different from any other relationship in your life. When you hire an agency, you’re really hiring its people—and they’re human beings, too. Make sure you like them, make sure you trust them and make sure you’re the type of client they’ll always go the extra mile for—and not just because they’re paid to.

Trust me. We truly want you to succeed. That’s what these guidelines are all about. 

Yamamoto-LoriMediaHiRes.jpg Lori Sharbono, Business Development Director, Yamamoto