Understanding the Difference between Capabilities & Synergistic Alignment for Creating the Best Results
Choosing your next Agency is a commitment, we get it. In collaborating and evaluating other agency strengths and weaknesses we have heard it all as well. Many claim that they are here to “partner with you” and not have this be solely transactional or they’ll say that they are passionate about what you’re doing and the change you’ll make together (I certainly hope so!). While these characteristics are undoubtedly important in evaluating your next long-term working relationship, there are more elements to take into consideration and many questions that you should pose before committing yourself and your brand to an agency, any agency for that matter.
Our hope and intention with this is that like with any investment that you take the time to do some due-diligence more thoroughly and are armed with questions that will hopefully support your decision with facts and data. Having been in the industry across our leadership team for some 30 plus years across a variety of agencies, small and large alike, we have seen the good, bad, and ugly and have seen how painful this process can be for both parties. Now don’t get us wrong, we have had been on both sides of this experience as well and we too are learning how to say “no” but that is where taking a deeper look at one another’s values, track records, work and former working relationships is critical to any happy, successful, and hopefully fun relationship.
1. Ask you your Account Manager: How will we define success!?
You’re going to want to line out the objective metrics you are trying to meet. Could be increased sales, community growth, cool design, you name it! The catch? Your agency account team won’t know what you want unless you tell them. Get messy with it, even tell them the weird stuff that you want. It is their job to help you organize your thoughts and keep them clear for EVERYBODY throughout the Agency process. Maybe you don’t have the answers to what you want, that’s cool. We’ll find them together.
2. Is the agency building partnerships or just completing orders?
There is a time and a place for hiring a one-off contractor to get a specific job done. You might think, “I’ve got a cousin that can design that on the cheap…Building your long-term brand isn’t one of these times. Your brand is an accumulation of every choice you make in this process. Partners make better brands. There is an investment of effort on both sides of a strong partnership, and you should want that for your brand. Partnerships yield more than the sum of their parts, contract jobs are for tacking parts together.
3. How does the agency culture align your growth plan?
If the agency seems to be shooting from the hip, they’ll probably stay that way. If you’re looking for a strategic partnership with an agency, look for an agency that has similar values and wants to grow in a direction that suits your needs as a business. For the greatest success, agencies and clients should be growing together. How willing is the agency to adapt and grow to suit your needs as they help you build more business?
4. Straight up ask the Agency if they care. And Why?
You care about your business…that’s why you’re doing it! There are enough agencies out there, find the one that gives a damn about who you are and what you do. Every agency wants your money…every agency is going to put on a good show to make you feel comfortable. But they can’t all be the right fit. Compare them. Contrast them. Pros & Cons. If something doesn’t feel right, that’s ok. You need to do what feels right for your brand, just make sure the numbers make sense, too.
5. Demand the numbers! REAL numbers. Presented in a way that makes sense.
Don’t be afraid to get a little demand-y. There are a number of digital and physical metrics that can show success in different ways. Do you want more views? More likes? Lasting impressions? Sometimes the big numbers aren’t as important as the little numbers, some figures look better combined but mean more when they’re separated. Make sure the agency you choose is ready to deliver information on your terms in ways that are meaningful to your business.
6. Check their references.
And believe them. Talk to their other clients. If the agency you’re speaking with doesn’t want you talking to their previous clients, there’s probably a reason. Maybe its because of tight NDA contracts, maybe its because they’re hiding something. The point is to explore every facet of the agency. How long have they held their longest client? What kind of awards have they received? Pay attention to the top 3 things their references are saying about them, and expect the same will happen for you.
7. Calm seas don’t make strong sailors. How are they prepared to deal with conflict?
Communication is key. Clearing the air. Open, honest, consistent communication. The creative process is rarely a smooth straight line. Ads and marketing communications are subjective, so inevitably, there will be hurdles and hiccups along the way. A good agency will be able to help anticipate and communicate the situation and how they plan to navigate it, but you are at the helm. It’s your brand, after all.
Keep in mind as you go through this evaluation that none of us are perfect, though we try to be well on our way of course. My invitation is to treat this as you would any relationship, dating or otherwise. Recognize that these take time to build trust and figure out one another’s working style. The key here is trust. The more quickly the agency is able to be transparent and vulnerable, to even show their flaws, the more quickly you’ll build trust and see if and how a working relationship can be mutually beneficial.
The last sidenote from industry experience is that agencies are inherently fun. Their cultures are playful, creative, and that is where their best work comes from. I’ve seen many clients come in, get fired up by a strategy session, and then leave to wonder how that vision is going to come to life. As hard as it might be, trust the process. If they have been able to show you their process, track record and happy clients, let them do their job so you can focus on yours. You don’t need to know all of the magic that happens behind the curtains so long as there is appropriate education, transparency, reporting, and ultimately results.
Now, get out there and make the impact in the world that you were supposed to!