After a recent pitch I got sight of the scoring system that the client was using to rate us. They shared the results after, and whilst some of the criteria was surprising, I realised in hindsight that whatever they had put on the sheet we would have scored highly. That might sound arrogant, but the reason I say it is because we knew we had every chance. We had carefully selected the client as a good fit for us, and us for them. On that basis, we knew that we would tick most, if not all, the boxes.
My point being, whilst clients select agencies, agencies should also be selective in their process. We have a refined list of potential clients with whom we want to work because we know we’d add value to their communications strategies. We use a 6 point tick-off when assessing whether a prospect should hit our ‘we want to work with’ list. That means we have absolutely conviction when telling them we’ll do a better job.
So, whether it’s an agency picking prospects or clients selecting an agency, I think there’s key criteria that stand out. With that being said, here are my 6 killer criteria for selecting an agency…
Culture – Does it match, is there synergy and will relationships build? Generally, similar smaller teams in clients and agencies will find that synergy whereas bigger operationally driven agencies will find a good match in process focused clients. Don’t appoint a beast of a corporation and then complain when the 5th account exec in 12 months isn’t ‘feeling it’.
Hierarchy – How big an account are you to the agency? The client wants to be important but not the account the agency relies on. They don’t want to get lost in the agency but they need to understand the agency has a track record of delivery. A level of reliance and therefore collaboration is healthy but make sure the love goes both ways!
Management – Who will work on the account. Team A for the pitch and Team B for running the account is no bad thing for some clients. The question is whether the agency is delivering the right resources and skill set for the account. A marketing team of 25 working with an agency of 5 is going to be under-serviced and pissed off pretty quickly. On the other side, a business owner that has a graduate running their account shouldn’t be comfortable with the arrangement.
Experience – Can the agency demonstrate a knowledge of the client’s marketplace and a case study of a similar sized account? In some sectors this is critical, in others maybe not so much. As a media agency we would argue that it’s an experience in the pertinent media avenues as much as the experience of the sector. Perhaps sector experience in broader marketing and creative is more important? Either way, a track record should provide some comfort that they know what they are doing.
Resources – If the client needs it, does the agency have the resource in-house? What tools does the agency have access to? What solution is right for the client and can the agency deliver? Equally smaller clients with limited requirements need not finance the capacity of an agency to deliver to the biggest clients. Be clear from the outset and ensure the agency can show you what’s on offer.
Price – A proposition relevant to the client and their requirements is obviously a key consideration (and let’s be honest, probably still the most important element?). The very biggest spending clients will appreciate the scale of the account and will expect agencies to resource the account appropriately. They will also understand the cost of running their account and look to structure deals accordingly. Equally, and something we see far too often, is the smaller spending accounts expecting the rates of the biggest spenders. It ain’t going to happen so be realistic!
I always find myself talking about size when I debate the agency/client relationship, but I think it really matters. Big agency, small client or small agency, big client are two combinations that experience tells me do not work. Ensuring you select an agency that feels like the right kind of size will ultimately be a good starting point.