Our company doesn’t respond to a lot of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) these days. The benefit for the issuer of the typical RFP is that you are attempting to source a product at the best possible price, under the assumption that the deliverable is generally the same from wherever it comes.
A few years back, I wrote about how I would go about selecting an agency. Today, I’d do it much differently because marketing has changed so dramatically in such a short period of time. Here’s how I would go about it:
- Research prospects online
Marketing firms have a lot of tools at their disposal. But, too many shops don’t know how to use them. If your plans include social media, the firms that you consider should have robust social efforts for themselves right? They should be active, consistent, responsive, and creative in their efforts. Same goes for any marketing discipline, they should be able to prove they are good at it.
- Meet the people
Would you hire an employee without meeting them? So, how can you begin to qualify an agency without meeting with them? At a typical agency that is truly full-service, there might be 20 or 25 people that work on your account, in some capacity, on a regular basis. You should meet most of them before you consider hiring them because your really might not like them. Even if it’s their personality, communication style, or whatever might really bug you. Hopefully, you’re looking for a long-term relationship with an agency. Enter it like you would any other relationship.
- Visit the shop
You can tell a lot about a firm just by spending an hour there. You can get a feel for the energy, or lack of it. You can determine if the staff appears happy or not. A happy staff is productive, creative, and likely to stick around long enough in order to understand your business.
- Look for in-house capabilities
Far too many firms sell you things that they can’t deliver on. At least not themselves. In today’s marketing environment, integration is crucial. It is very difficult to integrate a variety of marketing disciplines when even some of it is outsourced to free-lancers or other parties. Constant collaboration among marketers and optimizations of campaigns define successful campaigns today. That’s a struggle when the free-lancer has other gigs.
- Ask for case studies
A firm that wants to be trusted with your money should be able to show you relevant examples of entire campaigns that have been successful. This should include strategy, tactics, creative, and results. They should be able to speak in-depth about why they did what they did and how it performed.
- Ask about reporting
While case studies prove competency in a category, individual tactics should be measured along the way. Your agency should have KPIs set for all efforts and reporting on how they are going. Ask to see reports that they prepare regularly for other clients. And, read them with discernment.
- Call existing and former clients
Every agency can give you three names of existing clients who would hopefully give them a thumbs up. Ask for a lot more, including former clients. It’s these people that are more likely to shoot straight with you. So, prepare a list of questions and probe. If you can’t get a list of former clients from the agency, beware of what they’re hiding.
Finally, ask any and every question that you can think of. You might get a few ‘I don’t knows’ and that’s OK. You are trying to learn how a firm thinks, if they can really do what they say, and if their skillset matches your needs. If you really want to have a successful relationship with your marketing agency you should work as hard to hire one as they do to earn your business.