While the client-agency dating game goes on all year round, Valentine's Day is an appropriate occasion to pass along a few quick tips for finding the best marketing partner. No relationship is wine and roses all the time, but you deserve the best and can achieve it if you plan accordingly from the start.
Pretty faces don't always mean smarts, and size isn't everything. Huge agencies within holding companies are not necessarily more creative or dedicated. Sure, if you're a global marketer, you may need resources in many countries. If you're not, you might get more love and attention from a smaller agency. Plus, it will be easier to ferret out potential client conflicts, which are not always obvious at the biggest shops.
2) Considering Credentials
If you're not using a search consultant as matchmaker, you'll have to create a shortlist of agency candidates. Consider that agencies you've worked with in the past may not be ideally suited for your current need. Look for right-sized agencies with relevant experience. If possible, stay within a comfortable geographic radius of your HQ. There's nothing like face-to-face business. Conference calls and emails can only achieve so much. If you have the right selection of a few qualified potential partners, you have a greater chance of ending up with an excellent one.
3) First Impressions
As in dating, the first meet-and-greet tells a lot. Does the agency team seem comfortable with each other? Is there a good age mix? How eager are they to learn exactly what your expectations are? Ask them to explain their long-term client relationships and what they have learned along the way. How passionate are they about what they have achieved for other marketers? You want them to be passionate about you. The chemistry and culture fit should feel good.
4) Make Your Expectations Explicit
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to romance and client-agency relationships. Many of the latter start on the best of terms but go off the rails for things having nothing to do with creativity. Many clients don't properly communicate their scope-of-work expectations, or they keep changing them along the way. Do your best to set clear, understandable performance goals and make sure everyone understands the parameters of those goals. Craft an explicit on-boarding process for your potential agency partner so that any differences in communication or interpretation are discovered and remedied quickly.
Happy Valentine's Day!