Pitch Perfect: How to Choose the Right Agency Partner

April 22, 2016
Contributor: Chris Pemberton

Follow these four steps to find the best digital marketing agency fit for your organization.

Even when confronted with selecting the right marketing tools, hiring a talented data scientist or leveraging the Internet of Things, selecting the right agency is still one of the most significant decisions a marketing leader will make. What’s more, the context for the decision has become more complex with more tools, more stakeholders, more pressure, more channels — and the list goes on. Today, there’s more riding on the outcome than ever before.

Yet for such a high-stakes decision, too many marketers choose agencies without truly understanding what it’s like to work with their new partner. No wonder anecdotal evidence puts agency tenure at less than three years.

A collaborative, conversational approach to an agency search is the clearly preferred approach, noted Jay WilsonGartner for Marketing Leaders research director and 19-year agency veteran.

“Don’t assume they want to work with you just because you’re making the business available.”

Get your ducks in a row

A complex digital world in which customer experience is the new battleground means marketers must rely on effective internal partnerships (CIO, sales or service) to get the job done. That’s why it’s essential to get internal stakeholders who may be impacted by agency activity (including IT, sales, service, procurement and brand) aligned around needs before kicking off your search, said Mr. Wilson. Invest the time upfront to educate internal stakeholders. This will reduce the risk of conflict during the final stages of selection and will help avoid surprises during agency onboarding.

Generate excitement

Good agencies turn away more business than they accept. Use every opportunity to get agencies excited about your business and the opportunities you present. Don’t assume they want to work with you just because you’re making the business available. Make your business desirable by not only showcasing your company background and what you seek, but by communicating your vision. Be transparent about budget and timing. Early and clear transmission of these crucial components will set the stage for an efficient process.

“The single most important factor in selecting the right partner is understanding what it’s actually like to work with an agency and its people.”

Let agencies be agencies

Don’t fall into the trap of writing only a sentence outlining the problem and a page detailing the solution. This (narrow) approach leaves little room for new thinking. The biggest suggestion heard from agencies and marketers, noted Mr. Wilson, is to keep the RFP focused on your business goals, while leaving the path to achieving those goals open to the agency’s interpretation and unique capabilities.

Invest in a collaborative courtship

As important as an effective RFP is, the single most important factor in selecting the right partner is understanding what it’s actually like to work with an agency and its people. And there’s no short-cutting this part of the process. Commit to accessibility and collaboration from the first day of your search through final selection. Meet the mid- and junior-level staff because these are the people your team will be working with on a daily basis.

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