Selecting An Agency (or your clients)

I read an interesting article today on choosing the right agency and I think this is a really important topic for clients and agencies alike. A client-agency relationship should be based on ability, experience and trust and it’s an important combination to get right. Over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of pitches, RFPs and new business work and the range of tactics that clients use to make a purchasing decision varies immensely.

There have been cases where every agency in town is asked to go through high involvement pitching process, and the other end of the extreme where a big job has been awarded without any process whatsoever.

I personally dislike the pitching process as in many cases we are asked to deliver a spectacular strategy, creative and ideas relevant to the business in question, without any brief or detailed information provided. I like working with facts and realities and the pitching process is often void of those which makes it difficult to come up with an idea that is more than pretty, but has a solid foundation behind it.

Unlike many agencies, my approach to relationships isn’t run by the clock, but rather is built on client respect and friendship. I go out of my way to help clients, even if it takes more time than allowed for because I believe that putting in the effort is more important in the long term. Indeed this has lead to much referral business.

Of course, there are those times when work goes by unappreciated too and lacks basic respect – like that instance where I drove 1 hour each way for a first meeting, spent a further 40 + minutes putting together a quote as requested and then never heard back from the client who also stopped returning my calls. Or when I’ve spent the good part of a week responding to a pitch and never hear back on an outcome. There have even been instances where I’ve spent my personal time helping clients with last minute urgent deliverables at no charge and have never even got a “thanks”. Fortunately, these instances aren’t the norm, but those people who do the wrong thing, often spoil it for the others.

So if you are thinking about a new agency relationship at the moment, here are some of my tips:

  • The first step is to do your research on the agency and its key personnel you are considering. This is relatively easy to do through simple web searches and through any networks you have and should create an initial short list of contenders based on their previous experience and market reputation.
  • The amount of time and effort an agency will put into to a pitch will correlate with the value of the work and the number of other people pitching for the work. If you ask 10 agencies to pitch for a $10K job, you won’t be getting the best out of people.
  • Where possible, trial the service from agencies before you appoint them as your sole supplier in the space. This may be particularly easy if you have several small projects that you are running.
  • Be open to budget discussions. In the online space there are often many different ways to approach a project and the costs can vary with each. Sometimes its necessary to put a price down to start discussions, but if this price isn’t in your ball park, don’t walk away before you discuss other options that are.

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