Original insights in international business and marketing
Creative or advertising agencies are an essential part of the marketing landscape. No matter how big your business and how well funded you are, at some point you will require the services of a freelance designer or perhaps a top flight international advertising agency. The decision on whom you pick could prove to play a major part in the outcome of the partnership. Having worked with a fair share of creative agencies over the years, I wanted to briefly highlight seven factors worth considering when making a selection.
1. Local vs. Best in Class. There is always a natural tendency to pick an agency partner located nearby. Same city or at least within a short drive. The benefits are self evident and the opportunities for frequent, face to face and impromptu get togethers are greatly enhanced. This could be an important factor for companies that need really quick service, can’t afford the travel expenses or who value frequent in-person collaboration/meetings. Of course, all of this needs to be weighed against the benefits of working with a first rate agency that is not necessarily located close by. If you have the luxury or the stated goal of trying to be the best in your business, you cannot, in good faith limit your agency selection to only those located in your vicinity. Unless, of course, you are based in New York, London or some other major international business center.
2. Big vs. Boutique. Larger, international agencies can be more expensive but they are probably a better fit for multinational organizations. They offer a wide range of services, have offices in several countries, and usually have a deep bench of talent and industry expertise. Smaller agencies, on the other hand, can offer more exclusive or specialized services. Creative can be as good or better and they are generally hungrier for your business. They will go the extra mile and put in the very personal touch whereas the big firms may be more distracted and less responsive.
3. A Teams and B Teams. It is a well known fact that large agencies have their A-teams and B-teams. The former consists of the “stars” or veterans who have a track record of producing the very best work. The latter can often be more of a mix with younger or less experienced creatives. Quality of work may be just as good but it may not be as consistent or breakthrough as you might like. Hey, everybody has to cut their teeth somewhere. During your agency selection process, don’t be afraid to ask or discuss who will be assigned to your account. Be sure that the A-team does’t pitch you to sign up and let the B-team work with you thereafter.
4. Meeting Expectations vs. Challenging Conventions. A key objective of an excellent creative agency is to push the envelope a bit and challenge you out of your comfort zones. If the agency continuously meets your expectations, they may be doing enough to keep you satisfied but they probably aren’t doing enough to impress you or perhaps “blow you away.” With business continually evolving it is essential for an agencies to be daring, take risks and stretch their clients’ “conventional” thinking. Even the best of us, no matter how successful, have a tendency to return to the mean and get complacent. A good agency will keep you on your toes.
5. Chemistry and Rapport. Client-agency relations are first and foremost about people and about chemistry. It doesn’t matter how good the creative content is, if the Account Manager, Creatives, Agency Exec and your team don’t get along or fit, the relationship will go nowhere. A little tension once in a while can be good (even necessary) but at the end of the day, people on both teams need to respect and genuinely like each other. Not all agencies will fit with your team, so try and get to know them well before signing a marriage contract.
6. Creative vs. Consulting. Some relationships stay very straightforward. You want designs and copy, the agency provides. Nothing wrong with that. There will be times, however, when you will want something more. You will need, for example, more counseling, guidance and/or strategic advice. If and when that time comes, you will be grateful for an agency that has the resources and skills to support you. A good agency will give you what you want. A great agency will keep asking what you need. I personally like agencies that try to mold their services to address my evolving needs.
7. Transactional vs. Transformational. Similar to the previous point, there are agencies that take orders and deliver exactly what was asked. For some naturally talented Marketers or smaller firms this is all they need. For others, they depend on the agency team to really think in big, bold brush strokes, in a way that corporate marketers often can’t. This is where the best agencies will push their clients on many fronts (creative, content, copy, strategy, messaging, market research, campaigns, etc…). To do this right, the agency has to really understand the client’s business, customers and industry exceptionally well. No transactional relationship here. The agency is as passionate and ambitious as their client. They want to win as bad or more than anyone else and they will gladly team up to create and execute the entire Marketing strategy if invited. You just need to watch that they don’t get too pushy, carried away or sure of themselves.
At the end of the day, you are the client and the ultimate manager/owner of the agency relationship. You need to be clear on what you are looking for in this partnership, you need to set the tone & rules of engagement and, above all, you need to feel there is a good fit.
photo credit: ThilliMilli at photopin