The agency game: Six tips for choosing an agency

Why choose an agency

In part one of The agency game, I showed you why you should consider working with a creative agency. Now it’s time to find out how to choose the right agency for you.

To renew the relationship analogy, this is the part where I advise you on how to pick which agencies you should go on a date with (though they will probably call it a “meeting”). And when you’re on that date/meeting, you’ll know how to spot the signs that this could be a match made in heaven.

Answer the following six questions and you’ll stand a great chance of choosing the agency of your dreams.

1. How does it promote itself?
Sure, you’ve always been told not to judge a book by its cover, but this is the Tinder generation. Just like how dating has been reduced to a swipe left or right based on looks, you can judge an agency by how it presents itself to the world. What is its website like? Does it have an engaging social presence? If an agency isn’t promoting itself effectively, will it really be able to do the best job for you?

2. Do you love their work?
When you’re reviewing some of an agency’s previous work, is there a design, piece of copy or video that you ardently admire? If not, you shouldn’t even be looking for their number. It’s important to know from the outset that your chosen agency has the potential to sweep you off your feet. Though equally crucial, you shouldn’t expect any agency to simply recreate other work you like for your brand. Being a copycat won’t help you stand out from the crowd.

3. What’s your type?
Agencies often provide specialized functions so be sure you know which type will fulfill your needs. If you already have strong creative assets, you may just need an agency for media and strategy expertise. Do you want a complete brand campaign or just some social media support? Full-service agencies work across multiple media channels, but if you only want to increase online sales, a digital agency may be more effective. Be clear about your goals and pick your agency type to match.

4. Is it experienced in what you do?
Find out early if the agency has previous experience in your industry. If it does, then hone in on that work as a way of understanding their approach and whether it fits yours. If not, you’ll need to educate their team, so decide whether you have the time and resources to get them up to speed. It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, as an agency that approaches your industry cold could bring fresh insights and ideas that an experienced team may not have.

HappyClient-GuessWho5. Who would be your main contact?
This is one of the most critical questions to answer when choosing an agency because a good relationship with your main point of contact there often determines the success of your campaigns. Sometimes, initial meetings can be with an agency’s wider team but when the contract is signed, a new account manager is introduced. Be clear that you want to meet with the person who will be assigned your account, so you can be sure you are a match before making your decision.

6. Do you want a fling or a ring?
If you just want to achieve some short-term goals, pick the hottest agency out there and don’t worry about an ongoing relationship. But if you’re looking for a more long-term commitment, do some background research to see if an agency is a keeper. Use trade publications and your network to find out if your prospective partner has a higher than usual turnover of clients or staff. That may be an indication that the agency is a player, not a stayer.

These six questions will help you choose the right agency for your business. When you have made your decision, watch out for our next advice column in The agency game series where I’ll provide tips on how to work effectively with your new creative partner.

One Comment

  1. Good article. These Six Tips cover important ground and if you’ve got a handful to start with, any comparative process should lead to your winner. I’ve always argued choosing the ideal agency is relatively easy once you’ve identified your qualified candidates. The real problem is finding those qualified candidates! Last I checked there were some 30,000 firms in the US that call themselves ad agencies or some such (integrated marketing communication firms, digital agencies, PR firms). That’s just for starters. So for those who speak of starting with 3-5 firms, I always wonder because they don’t say – how do you identify those?

    Some suggest asking colleagues, asking media reps, or Googling for agencies with specific characteristics in your area. Some “directory” websites offer “alpha-ranked” agencies. But visit their websites and you discover “Contact Us” often fails to reveal their location, nor how many people actually work there. The data elements you want to use to winnow your list don’t exist. That was our discovery almost 20 years ago when we were teaching agency business development and little has changed. That absence of necessary data led us to develop an agency profile and search process that draws upon more than 500 agency profile data fields. And for years, we’ve been helping clients identify their handful to invite and have done so for thousands. See for yourself at

Back to top button