Criteria To Consider When Selecting Your Next Advertising, Marketing or Web Design Agency.
Finding the right creative agency who understands your business, target customers, and the most effective strategy to engage your audience is often a daunting task. The impact on your marketing spend is always heavily weighted based on the talent and skill sets of your chosen in your agency partner.
Sorting through the thousands of creative agencies all over the world can be take quite a bit of time, but if you leverage the following baseline for all project RFP’s and RFQ’s, you will mitigate many of the risks associated with new agency selection.
It’s very important to continually source new agency talent as you work to innovate the creative basis for your company.
1. Business Fundamentals
Any B2B relationship should always start with ethically sound and proven business acumen.
a. D&B Credit Score
All businesses should understand the importance of a quality D&B Credit Score ensuring their payables and debt are in order. Many agencies leverage various external resources to create the work they deliver to customers, so validation that the agency is on good terms with all of these resources is a fundamental consideration.
b. Time in Business
There are many great creative experts who have had the opportunity to venture on their own to develop a boutique creative agency. The first few years for any business owner comes with many trials and tribulations on both the execution and operations side. If you work with an agency that has been in business for less than four, you should ask for prior work examples and talk to a number of their previous customers before commencing a partnership.
c. External Ratings & Reviews
Conducting your own due diligence is important, as the references you will receive from most agencies are always their best relationships. Looking for credible references, reviews from prior employees, and various other rating agencies like the BBB.org are good best practices to ensure you have a full view of your new agency partner.
If you know the average deal size of an agency and the number of projects they deliver per year, you can quickly determine their estimated revenue. Knowing how your project will contribute to the agency’s total revenue will help determine the significance of your relationship and the overall impact your project will have on their firm. There are pros and cons to this, as choosing a smaller firm may limit their ability to execute as they have proposed, while a larger firm may not provide you their top set of resources.
e. Employee Count
Understanding an agency’s in-house resources will allow you to better identify their area of expertise. Having one graphic designer or one developer may not constitute as a full-service agency, as the limitations of a small number of resources will limit your results. Asking for full clarity on how often they may utilize external resources for a project like yours should be an honest discussion at the start of the relationship.
2. Core Competency
Alignment of Industry, Process, and Capabilities is critical to the success of your project.
a. Industry/Customer Expertise
There is a wide spectrum between a marketing campaign targeted at the Federal Government and a campaign aimed at kids aged 4-10 years old. An agency’s creative team with specific vertical experience will deliver unique audience insights that will be critical to the success of your campaign. Ask each creative agency for validation that they understand the various dynamics of your audience and look to the detail of their work (and results) to support this. Many agencies will state they cover a number of industries, but most have a deep understanding of only a few.
b. In-House Core-Capabilities
Agency creative teams truly run the gamut on structure, process, and execution. Most will conduct a detailed discussion with you around your goals and requirements and reflect that back in the form of a project brief. This project brief will become the North Star that drives creative and strategic decisions, and should be referenced heavily by the agency’s cross-functional team of designers, developers, strategists, and copywriters. Asking for clarity on the agency’s processes and your ability to collaborate throughout the engagement is a great best practice to ensure you’re aligned each step of the way. If the agency has an iterative engagement model, you’ll have a chance to share your opinion while pieces are still a work in progress, so the agency can course correct in real time. This will save you time and money in the long run.
c. Advertised Results
Considering the amount of market competition, it can often be difficult to truly understand the capabilities of each agency. Most will advertise expertise in a breadth of services, but in reality may provide each service in a very limited capacity. Ask each agency to give you multiple, relevant case studies that reflect the specific services you’re interested in learning more about. Be wary of case studies that contain vague descriptions and pretty pictures but are missing key details like Key Performance Indicators or campaign metrics – this could indicate the agency is lacking expertise in delivering on the end marketing goal. If you’re still unsure about a specific service offering, ask to speak to the agency’s practice lead or subject matter expert and conduct a quick one on one to get your questions answered. If you ask results based questions up front, you will start the relationship with good context and a foundation that saves everyone time later in the project.
3. Quality of Work
The nature of “quality” can be subjective, but there are some key data points that will help make it factual
Quality of work often is the alignment of original requirements with the results of final delivery. Whether it was a target audience, an aspiring look, or a fundamental request, taking the baseline understanding of a customer’s objectives and giving them the wow factor by elevating the creative work, is what makes an agency great. Look for these stories either in case studies or internet reviews and whenever possible speak to a few customers about the experience and process they went through.
b. Market Trends
Whether it's meeting a new SEO requirement like Responsive Design or creatively responding to visual trends like hamburger menus and hero images, understanding and evolving current design paradigms is essential to high-quality work. Doing something because its familiar will never make for the extraordinary, but continuing to understand and challenge the norm always will.
c. Detail of Work
Quality of creative is about establishing fundamentals of design. Agencies should work with you to develop brand requirements such as a color palette, font usage, photography style, and more. This enables you and your agency to gain alignment on these fundamentals at the start of any project. Establishing brand requirements also has the added benefit of enabling you to work with multiple agencies at one time, and still get a consistent visual result. The alignment to core standards and detail in innovation is always the difference in great design…
d. Creative Ratings
Looking for industry or design awards is viability for confidence in quality and creativity. There are a number of resources, such as the Communication Arts awards (http://www.commarts.com/competitions), Awwwards (www.Awwwards.com) AdAge (www.AdAge.com), and Portelo (www.Portelo.co) who review and rate the top advertising, marketing, digital campaigns, web design, branding, and more. Use these resources to get a professional’s opinion about the quality of work compared to the industry.