7 Questions You Need to Ask Before Choosing an Ad Agency (or a Client)

October 20, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Getting married is exciting. There’s the nervous energy that comes from starting your new life together. The anticipation for what the uncharted future will bring. And of course, there’s the popping of the champagne to celebrate! On the flip side, divorce sucks. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and emotionally, it can drain your life force. Fifty years ago, we mated for life, for better or worse. Now it seems, that’s rare. But all the more reason to pick your partner wisely.

I’m talking, of course, about the marriage of ad agencies and clients. It’s a thrilling, complicated dance and one that requires a lot of physical and emotional capital. All the more reason clients and agencies both need to ask themselves these seven questions before tying the knot.

1. Historically, have they done good work that’s gotten results?

Ask agencies to describe themselves and most will tout their “award-winning” work. Many view that as a somewhat pejorative term, but they shouldn’t. Every client wants work that’s smart, fun, clever, strategic, moving, or some combination thereof, and there’s a lot to be said for work that’s judged to be among the best in the country. That said, the second half of the work equation is results. Has the agency’s work driven traffic? Driven sales? Built the brand? Does the agency show a history of helping their clients succeed wildly? 100, 200, 300 percent growth over time?

From the agency perspective, you have to ask yourself what kind of work a client has done both recently and historically. If it’s consistently off-strategy, uncreative, and light years from the successful work you’ve done and want to do, proceed with caution. Every agency believes they can solve any problem, but if those problems are systemic within the client organization, odds are you’re in for a painful relationship that won’t end well.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

2. Are they like you and do they share your values?

In every relationship, whether personal or professional, we’re drawn to people who are like us and who value the same things we do. In a pitch situation, the amount of time agency and client actually get to spend with each other is normally short so it’s imperative to do everything you can to find out as much as you can about the people you’re potentially partnering with. Read LinkedIn profiles. Call references. If you know people who have worked at that company, or with those people, talk to them. Inform your perspective and then have a direct, purposeful conversation with the people you’ll be working with to discuss what’s important to them. Incongruent values may not be the number one reason for an agency/client breakup, but it is the primary thing that will cause the relationship to turn toxic.

3. Are they collaborative?

You don’t have to look any further than Congress to see the results of a non-collaborative culture. Agencies have long considered themselves idea factories. but great marketing ideas don’t usually come from people sitting in silos. There needs to be interaction, conversation, steel sharpening steel. The best agencies are highly collaborative, embracing ideas not just from Creative, but from Account Service, Media and other great thinkers in the mix, including clients. Are your future partners collaborative? Do they happily share their toys? Or, are the saddled with a “we have all the answers,” “not made here” attitude bordering on arrogance? If that’s the case, they better be the greatest marketing thinkers ever who can deliver in spades every time. If they aren’t, it’s going to be a long, frustrating relationship.

4. Is senior leadership involved in your business?

When most agencies pitch business, especially larger ones, they often have a senior new business team that directs the pitch, presents the work, and closes the deal. Once married, the “pitch team” passes the new account to the team that will handle the brand day-to-day. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. There are agencies of every size and shape stocked to the gills with talented people. What’s crucial to account stability is understanding which senior-level people will touch and lead the business on both sides and what their roles will be. Without knowing that, effective brand leadership and communication are impossible. Which brings us to number five.

Look for the other 3 questions in tomorrow’s post on BARK! The Voice of the Underdog. 

Michael Tuggle is Chief Imagination Officer at The Loomis Agency, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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