It’s no wonder businesses frequently switch their advertising and marketing agencies. According to a survey conducted by Marketing Week, only 8% of corporate marketers say they are “very satisfied” with their agency.
Since so many businesses are looking for a new agency partner, here are 16 questions you should consider during an RFP or RFI process. Discovering the answers to these crucial questions will help you select the best agency.
1. Who Are The People You Will Work With?
Agencies are notorious for introducing their top executives during new business presentations, but then substituting them with junior staff once the contract has been signed. Where did those impressive people go? During the agency selection process, insist on meeting the people you will actually work with, especially your primary day-to-day contacts. Take a lunch with them. It’s important to vet the professionalism, experience, and capability of the people with whom you’ll work with every day. You’ll want to trust and like them, too.
2. Do You Truly Understand The Fee Structure?
Agency contracts are frequently filled with lawyer terminology, making it challenging to decipher fee structures. When negotiating with your new agency, ask that fee schedules be written in plain, easy-to-understand language. And while you’re at it, make sure you understand what happens when you’ve used up your allotted hours, or the costs for making revisions, or changing the scope of the project.
3. What Governs Termination?
Some agency relationships last many long, fruitful years. But, others struggle in the first year of doing business together. Since all things eventually come to an end, ensure your contract clearly spells out the terms (timing and reasons) if it becomes necessary to part ways.
4. What Services Does The Agency Offer?
Many marketing firms like to say they are a full-service agency. But when you dig deeper, it’s common to discover that they really only do two or three things well. Prospective firms should present evidence that they perform all the services you’re likely to need in the future, such as branding and campaigns, content and SEO, market research, marketing automation, strategy, media planning and buying, paid search, public relations, social media, UX, and web development.
5. How Involved Is The Agency Owner?
If you’re considering an agency called The John Smith Agency, you should meet with John Smith during the selection process. And once the ink is dry on the contract, how often will you meet with him or her? Do you have the owner’s direct phone and email address? Will they attend campaign updates and reviews? It’s important to demand access and significant involvement from the agency’s owner.
6. Are They Experienced In Your Industry?
This isn’t a disqualifier, but wouldn’t it be great if your new agency had direct experience in your industry? If not, you may have to spend time educating themselves on your industry’s KPIs—and that’s time better spent getting results for you. An ideal situation is when your agency has a wealth of experience in your industry, so they can deliver strategic ideas you’ve never considered. On the other hand, sometimes hiring an agency without substantial experience in your industry is a way to get out-of-box thinking and solve thorny marketing challenges with a fresh approach.
7. What’s Their Management Structure?
Success comes in many forms. Some agencies have multiple levels of managers and byzantine reporting structures. Newer agencies often adopt a flat reporting structure, which means there aren’t managers. Anywhere. The lack of a structured multi-leveled management chain (and its accompanying red tape) can spur innovation, speed, creativity, and responsiveness.
8. How Important Will You Be to Them?
It’s not too much to expect that you’re treated as if you are your agency’s only client. Anything less is asking for trouble. When speaking with prospective agencies, find out how many clients they have, and how you’re likely to stack up to them. You don’t want to be the small fish in a big sea. If your budget is miniscule to their big clients’ dollars, you may not get the attention you want.
9. Where Are They Located?
Face-to-face meetings are important. Lunches. A bite after work. Eating hot dogs at a ball game. Nothing takes the place of shaking hands and breaking bread on a frequent basis. Consider hiring an agency that’s located close enough to facilitate this in-person communication. If not, make sure your new agency is committed to frequent meetings and conference calls.
10. How Many (And How Recent) Are Their Case Studies?
Be suspicious of agencies that won’t share detailed case studies about client successes. Look for agencies that have up-to-date case studies on their websites and other resources that share exactly what they did for their clients and the resulting ROI.
11. What’s More Important To You—Creative or Strategy?
This isn’t a chicken-or-the-egg question, because they’re both important. You certainly want an agency with excellent creative chops, but the best campaigns usually originate with strategy, which informs creative (design and editorial) channels and direction. Search for an agency that’s rooted in strategy and market research and backs it up with strong creative executions.
12. How Do They Rank?
This may not be the most important element to consider, but it’s a good barometer of an agency’s experience and success. Check to see how prospective agencies are ranked by local newspapers and business publications (digital and print). Many cities have annual “Best of” rankings, where they measure agencies against each other. These listings also often provide a wealth of additional data, such as key personnel, year founded, billings, number of employees, and noteworthy clients.
13. Have You Had an Office Tour?
Think twice about hiring an agency until you’ve been to their office. Get a vibe. How happy do their employees appear? How agencies take care of themselves is a good indicator of how you’ll be treated. Sometimes, you CAN judge an agency by its environment.
14. What’s Their Sense of Play and Culture?
It’s very true that you’ll be entering into a very serious business relationship. But, the agencies that consistently provide the best strategic work, award-winning creative, and excellent ROI are often the ones that also focus on staying loose. Play and creativity are important fuels for outstanding work. During your vetting process, find out what kind of activities the agency engages in. Do they have frequent staff retreats? Volunteer and community awareness events? Team-building exercises? And while you’re on the office tour, keep an eye out for design elements that foster play and encourage creativity.
15. Does The Agency Focus on Staff Education?
You should demand that your agency employs the best staff in the business. That’s a result of savvy hiring. It’s just as crucial to ensure that your new agency partner is committed to staff improvement and education. Does the agency encourage its staff to attend national conferences that will enhance their skills, industry knowledge, and improve your results?
16. How Do They Market Themselves?
Agencies may talk the talk, but do they walk the walk? Check to see if an agency is doing for themselves what they recommend for you. Are they using the latest marketing automation tactics to promote their success and services? Is their website filled with current and frequent content to aid in search rankings? Do you sense strategic differentiation in their presentations and online presence? Are they using public relations and social media in unique and effective ways?
Obtaining satisfactory answers to these questions during your selection process can go a long way to ensuring that your next agency relationship is a long, mutually beneficial one.