How Do I Choose a Creative Agency?
Nine Maybe-Not-So-Obvious Questions That You Should Ask Every Agency You’re Considering.
So, for one reason or another, you’ve decided to start looking at new creative agencies. You’ve done a bit of homework and asked a few friends for recommendations. You’ve checked out a number of websites and encountered the obligatory and perhaps terrifyingly complex barrage of we-do-this-we-do-that capabilities text. Side note: creative agencies sometimes believe that complex and mysterious sounds more alluring and more mysterious; giving them the ability to charge more for their services. You’ve waded through client lists, bios and images and videos of wonderfully-presented work. Ultimately, you’ve narrowed down your list to maybe four or five agencies. Next step? Take the time to meet these agencies in person.
Not to sound too dramatic, but this can be a somewhat daunting endeavor. No doubt that it’s important and you can waste a lot of time and money if you make the wrong decision. I would suggest that you should have a defined set of questions and stick to them for each meeting (some clients even attempt to quantify the process). This will give you the ability to compare apples-to-apples as best you can. We don't have to cover the obvious questions that deal with agency vital stats, client list and history here; those are relatively easy to generate. However, as someone who’s been in this business for nearly thirty years, I would be sure to ask the following nine questions if I were looking to hire a new creative agency:
1. Do you have a comprehensive, A-to-Z, process? Could you briefly explain the steps that you take?
The answer to this question will give you an idea of how thorough and intelligent an agency might be with regards to their approach. I would recommend that you have an idea of what steps you believe are optimal given your objectives. If there are gaping holes in an agency’s approach, method or capabilities, cross them off the list. Try not to lead the agency with this question. Ask it very simply and take in their response.
2. How will your agency’s principals (or in a very large agency, top talent/upper management) get involved in my work on a day-to-day basis?
I’m just going to come right out and say it: A lot of agencies sell with their A Team, and service with their B or C Team (while still charging rates for their A team). Be very careful about this and try to ask for specifics—it can dramatically affect the quality of work that you’ll get.
3. What agencies do you most typically lose business to and why?
The answers here will give you an idea of what agencies the agency you’re interviewing aspire to be. If those agencies aren’t on your list, perhaps you should add them.
4. What does your typical client engagement look like?
While every client is different, we’ve found over the past fourteen years that there are lots of similarities as well. Ask why most of their clients come to them in the first place and for examples of the work they did. The answer you get to this question should give you a good idea of what’s in the agency’s wheelhouse (or not).
5. Can you tell me about an instance where you lost a client? Why did it happen and what have you learned from it?
Everyone likes to talk about their successes. Try to get them to candidly talk about some of their defeats and how they’ve learned or changed from those setbacks. Fact is that it happens to even the best agencies, and it happens for a number of reasons. I think this question will catch agencies a bit off guard. Look for honesty and maybe a bit of humility in their response.
6. What do you require from clients to do your best work?
Here at id29, we ask potential clients for two things. Number one: We ask them if they truly value what we do and the potential value of a brand, creative, design and intelligent strategy. Number two: We ask them if they can create an environment in which we–together—can do great work and really make a difference. For us, that optimal environment can be boiled down to collaboration, responsible communication and mutual respect. Take a listen to what each of your potential agencies have to say.
7. How important would I be to your agency?
Please make sure that you new agency really, really wants your work. If they don’t, you will not get the service and quality of work that you deserve. Look them in they eye and make sure you’re happy with the response.
8. Are there any questions that I haven’t asked that I should have?
Chances are that the agencies you’re interviewing have done this many times. See if they can help you make the best decision you can make.
9. Can we grab another, less formal meeting?
Last but not least, I strongly recommend that you get a few of your short-list agencies outside of their offices. If possible, ask one of their Principals out for lunch or a cup of coffee. See how they react to questions after having a few pints (but please drink responsibly). Can you secure a one-on-one meeting with the account executive/manager that you might actually be working with? If so, go for it! See if you’re comfortable with the people in the agency as human beings. So much of the relationship you have with your agency will be based on chemistry. Trust me, it’s all worth the extra effort. Give it a shot before you make a decision.
Do your homework. Ask tough questions. Take the process seriously and approach it with discipline. Good luck!