So, let’s say you’ve got a product to launch, a transformative new service, software that will change the world, or simply have more marketing work on your plate than you know how to handle. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. You know you need marketing help, and an agency seems to make sense, but how do you get started? Who do you partner with? Is partner the right word? How do you even complete sentences when you’re so overwhelmed with the work ahead? Well, friends, this is where a top ten list comes in handy. Here are ten questions you should ask yourself when interviewing prospective agency partners.
1. Do they share your values?
You have what some would call “explicit, fundamental beliefs, concepts, and principles” which you don’t care to compromise as an individual and as part of an organization. You don’t believe in carrot cake, for example. You need to find an agency partner that loathes carrot cake as much as you do—and isn’t faking it. Fundamental beliefs are hard to fake, so by asking questions that address your core values, you’ll be able to find a good fit.
2. Do they ask you annoying questions (that get to the heart of your business)?
When you start engaging with agencies, the people you meet with will ask you all sorts of questions about your product, program, and process. They’ll use “intake forms” and “creative briefs” and other tools that are designed to get to know you, your company, and your product or service. These interviews can be tough and sometimes even boring. But they are an important part of the process. Stay patient and listen for questions that are either hard to answer or cover something you haven’t considered before. The agencies that challenge you in the onboarding process are likely to continue to look for value in your product that they can share with your customers.
3. Will they serve your needs? Or will you serve theirs?
Speaking of process, pay attention to your prospective agency’s process. Are they driven by it? Do they seem obsessed with driving you through their “proven process” and less interested in approaching you and your needs with flexibility? If so, you should move on. Inflexible agencies will treat you as a commodity: they’re not interested in investing in you, they’re simply interested in your money.
4. Do you enjoy each other’s company?
Everyone loves a good laugh. And spending time with people you like is one of life’s joys. This should happen in a work environment as well. If the agency you’re interviewing seems transactional and robotic, move along. Conversely, if the agency you’re meeting with is more interested in lunches, tee times, and gossip, then they’re unlikely to get any meaningful work done. Look for the same qualities you admire in your friends; your agency should be easy to be with, laugh with, disagree with, and do great things with.
5. Do they have a proven track record?
Has your agency done great things? Check! Have they won awards? Booyah! Do they have data to show how their campaigns and programs have led to leads and sales? How old are their longest client relationships? Ensuring that the agency has done work that leads to trackable sales data is critical. Working with an agency that has performed so well that they have years-old client relationships is insurance.
6. Are their client testimonials credible?
Lots of agencies feature a parade of corporate logos on their websites, and many feature client testimonials but often leave out the details, such as a person’s last name. If you can’t validate testimonials by googling the name and company featured, something is up. Ask your prospective partner for a current satisfied client list and call them up. If the agency gives you that information freely and without hesitation, they have established relationships with clients willing to tell others about them. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!
7. Does their work appeal to you?
This might seem obvious, but when you begin to search for an agency, if their website isn’t appealing to you, you might want to move along. Before you go, however, check out some of the sample work. If it’s working for you, you might be experiencing the phenomenon known colloquially as “the cobbler’s children have no shoes,” which is shorthand for “we’re so busy as an agency working on award-winning and effective creative for our clients that we haven’t had the time or resources to build our own award-winning and effective website since 2005.” Hey, it happens. If you make it past those two gates, pay careful attention to the creative shared in the client presentation. Is it consistent? Is content carefully aligned with creative? Is it compelling? If you can answer yes to all of the above, 10 points to Gryffindor.
8. Are they fast learners? Do they become fans?
Let’s say you’ve decided to engage with an agency on a trial basis. Why would you do that? For starters, agencies often interview well but start to… behave differently when engaged. If they’re really interested in earning your trust, they will learn as much about your product, service, or company as fast as they can. If they’re truly invested (and excited), you’ll start to see some fan-like behavior. If they start to write fanfic, however, you may want to reconsider the relationship.
9. Do they inspire you to do your best work?
Great agency relationships should be inspiring. Their enthusiasm for your product, service, or company should be so contagious that it surprises even you, AND YOU REPRESENT THE COMPANY. Taking crazy, inspirational ideas back to your daily work should be a pleasant side effect from working together.
10. Do they solve problems or create them?
Finally, if your agency is creating more work for you, if they aren’t actively working on solving your problems like a great marriage counselor, then you need to move on. A great agency anticipates your needs, streamlines processes, and serves you a great cup of coffee along the way. Don’t waste time with agencies that “do great work” at a great cost, either in time or money. In the end, the hassle may not deliver the results you’re looking for.
Working with a marketing agency is an investment in your product, service, or company’s future growth. Great agencies are not cheap, but they are a terrific balance of service, creative, and value. Take the time to carefully prep for a great engagement!