If you own a small business, and you have decided to work with a marketing or advertising firm to get to the next level—congratulations! You’ll about to have more learning, more challenges and more downright fun than you’ve likely ever had in your business career.
Good agency people know you are hiring them because you want to do more business, and be smarter about it. They know that if they don’t succeed, they will lose you as a client, so you’ll find they are likely more aggressive in wanting to drag all your years of knowledge and experience out of your head than any of your current employees.
Good agencies will constantly surprise you with ideas you have never thought of and insights about your prospects and clients you haven’t had time to discover. They do this by getting to know all about your business.
Agencies know, that regardless of anything else, what you’re really going to do is “fall in love” with the creative. That’s why agencies often produce really amazing, cool ads for “the pitch” without really knowing all the pertinent facts on your business. These agencies know that if you fall in love with the ad—even if it will never work for your company—you will fall in love with them and hire them.
So how do you choose between several equally talented, fairly-priced potential agency partners? Simply look at what they’ve done for other clients and assess the results.
By the time you have your “short list” of potential agency partners, we hope you’ve clarified what is important to you and your company, and identified the agencies you think might be the best fit. By then, you should also have told them what the assignment is and what your ballpark budget is.
Now you need to ask the agency team to come in and talk to you one-on-one.
Make sure the people who will actually work on your business are at the meeting. You are about to hire people you might be talking to every day, not the “pitch” team you may never see again.
Think of this as a “First Date”. You are going to entrust the agency with confidential information, and you have some pretty aggressive goals, so you should look on this first meeting as a way to get to know them, and find out if you can like and trust them.
Don’t ask for “ideas” to market your business; they most likely won’t know anywhere near enough about what you do to give you ideas that will actually work.
You won’t be able to see “samples” of marketing plans—these are confidential documents the agency can’t share with you. How would you like it if they shared your business plans with strangers?
So what can you ask about? Case studies will tell you lots about how they work, especially if you make sure to follow up with the client contact after the meeting. Ask about the business problem the program was designed to solve, what they did and how it worked.
You should have a good handle on what the agency people are experts in, so ask about new technology, direct mail, media buying, events, sales promotion, radio, TV, point of purchase. Can they help you install in-house expertise and coach your staff, or will you rely on them to do everything as consultants?
You will be working closely with your agency, so find out if they are a good fit. You can have a good time looking at their portfolio of work. They will choose their best stuff to show you and looking at ads is like walking through someone’s house; you’ll get a good idea of what they are like. Just remember that what works for another company might not work for you.
At the end of the process, you’ll have talked to several firms who are competent and capable. You will make a final decision the way all buying decisions are eventually made—using your emotions. Who did you like and trust the most? Who made you fall in love with your business all over again by asking smart questions? Who shared their knowledge and experience most freely? Who feels most like a partner?
Once you’ve chosen your agency, ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and share your business plan and your financials. Then set your goals, and get going.