How to choose an agency

Having been through all sorts of different pitching processes in my time, I wanted to have an honest conversation about how to make good choices.

Here’s something you might not expect me to say…

We might not be the agency you’re looking for.

Despite the catchy headline, this isn’t a sales bit to convince you we’re the team you’ve been looking for. We don’t know you yet and we’re not one-size-fits-all. We’re a particular kind of dream team.

I believe that each agency is the sum of its parts: personalities, leadership, purpose, values, vision, skills, experience, efficiencies, processes and direction. I have seen and experienced the epic failings of agencies and clients going through the motions to ‘sift out’ a new partner based on ye old credentials. But frankly, if we’re recruiting personalities with the same amount of attention as skills, shouldn’t you be? Credentials contain necessary details but they’re seldom a true a picture of who you’re getting into bed with.

Not to be taken lightly, your agency (sometimes us) should ideally be operating as an extension of your own team. They need to get behind your goals and identify with your vision if they’re going to be responsible for flinging you upwards into the star-filled sky that is success. And so, here are some of the important characteristics I would be looking out for as I conducted my search for the best agency for me:

A warm welcome.

Do they start as they mean to go on?

As I mentioned in my blog with Sophia, I find it astonishing and bewildering that agencies competing for work fail to respond aptly to enquiries. Unless I’m on holiday or trapped in a lift, there is no excuse for a client not to hear back from me immediately. It becomes my priority.

If I’m going to trust a new partner with my business and my money, I would expect them to jump at the opportunity when I come knocking, not get around to it when they’re back from lunch. A little enthusiasm goes a long way.

At this stage I’d be assessing whether or not they’re swift in their comms, if they’ve sent me an auto message or taken the time to look into my business and have they asked for my budget before my name? You should be able to filter out a few time-wasters straight off the bat.

What does your process achieve?

Here at Salad, we don’t give away our design for free. We have this in common with pretty much all other professionally-managed firms.

Beautifully Effective™ digital or design work is the outcome of a strong partnership between a client and their agency. Development of intelligent strategy that informs creative recommendations can’t be achieved without that partnership and so creative pitching is often an expensive and unusable investment. Agencies who give their designs away for free are usually most desperate for business and have plenty of time to spare. This is not a good indication of stability.

Now that that’s been established, what can you do to get the most out of your process?

First of all, take some time to consider who they’ve put in the room with you. Is it a team of slick-backs with the gift of the gab and matching waistcoats or the actual people responsible for bringing your vision into reality? Has the owner or leader of the agency dedicated the time to introduce themselves?

How was the chemistry in the room after you’d made a professional assessment? Can you imagine enjoying spending time with them? Are they attentive or are they making small talk and nodding politely?

Do they <3 you?

We’re proud to be industry general here at Salad. Sure, we have a big love for food, drink and hospitality brands because it’s often some of the most creatively flexible work we do. But we’ve built our business on a wealth of varied experience – motor, finance, drones, cinemas – you name it. And frankly, defining and building first-in-class work for such different industries and audiences is challenging and of course, rewarding.

So the next thing I’d pay attention to is passion.

Do they know anything about my industry? If they don’t, do they seem genuinely excited about the prospect of learning something new? Are they a customer or a fan of my business already? Do they buy or consume my products already and if they do, what insight may that give them that other agencies might not have?

Do they actually give a sh*t?

And come to think of it, do you give a sh*t about them in return?

Have you allowed for a realistic amount of time and budget for your agency to achieve all of your ambitions? Have you taken the time look at the agency’s culture, vision and people, as well as their experience?

In agency land, we win some and we lose some – that’s the nature of the beast. But as a business that only sells its time, I’m working hard to make sure we take as much care choosing our clients as they take choosing us.

A successful partnership of any kind is based on trust, great communication, compatibility and chemistry so don’t let your judgement of these characteristics fall by the wayside when you have the chance.

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