Marketing and creative agencies: How to find the right fit

What are the signs that an agency may or may not be a good fit for your small business? In this piece, David Morgan, chairman of The Mission, finds out.

If you’re running a small business and have decided you need to hire a marketing or creative agency to help you build your reach, you’re probably entering new territory. It may well be something you’ve never done before. So what should you be looking for? What are the signs that an agency may or may not be a good fit for you?

Businesses often struggle to sort the wheat from the chaff when being pitched to by agencies and the current pitch process approach does not help the matter. It is typical for businesses to meet with up to half a dozen agencies for some sort of initial ‘credentials’ meeting, followed by a more formal ‘pitch’ where ideas and strategies are shared, and then a post-mortem which reduces the list to one or two agencies. At this point, businesses might go back with further follow up questions before landing on their chosen partner.

This, as you can imagine, can take up a lot of time (and therefore money) for both your business and the agencies involved. In our experience at The Mission, panels can often look weary as they sit through yet another full presentation and try to remember the crucial differences between each agency. We would love to see this journey change so that the process of matching a business and an agency is less drawn out. This would bring the marketing industry more in line with other professional bodies such as lawyers and accountants, in which the selection process is far more streamlined.

So how might this restructured pitch process work? First of all, we would recommend drawing up a list of three or four potential agencies. This could be based on word of mouth; sector expertise; geography; size or first impressions from their website. From this, you should think carefully about who from your business needs to part of the decision-making process. You need a good mix of people who will have a stake in what the Agency will be working on – but don’t invite a cast of thousands. Keep to just a small number of people whose judgment you trust and who can give an objective view.

Meet the potential agencies for an initial conversation and try to understand what makes them tick as a business. There are a number of areas to explore:

Cultural fit

You may not have been through an agency pitch process before – but you will almost certainly have held lots of interviews for new hires. In a sense, this is similar – because first impressions count and natural instinct about whether they are a good fit largely applies here too.

As important as it is to evaluate the team in front of you, it’s also crucial to identify the agency’s wider culture and values. Appointing an agency is often a matter of ‘chemistry’ and that involves buying into the agency’s culture.

Expertise

Businesses need agencies to know their stuff – but not just about their own industry. They’ve also got to understand the sector your business operates in. So, when speaking to an agency for the first time, it is important to find out whether they have done their research and whether they already have experience in your sector. If they do have that experience, they should be more able to hit the ground running for you.

Adding value

When recruiting agencies, you also need to consider how they might help your creative activity go beyond what already exists, utilising their consultancy to exceed expectations. Ask yourself: do they have any specialisms that will add value to your business? Do they have experts in social media, events or digital who could provide consultancy that you could not otherwise access?
The right type of agency for you will depend entirely on the needs of your business and your existing capabilities. Within The Mission, our agencies comprise of a complementary mix of specialists in specific marketing and communications activities and specialists in particular market sectors, all providing the right solutions to suit their clients.

Very often, the standout agency is the one displaying the rigour, insight and process that will take you to the right answer not only at pitch, but into a future working partnership.

Supporting success

Ultimately, you’re probably looking to hire an agency to help the business achieve a specific goal, such as to drive sales, increase web traffic or just build awareness of the brand. However, giving an agency a more holistic view of the wider business’ critical success factors will mean that they will be more likely to deliver solutions that not only achieve the task given to them, but will benefit the business as a whole. As you talk to a potential agency, watch how they respond to your overview. Are they excited about the big picture? Do they want to work in partnership with you to understand your entire business?

Having met with three or four agencies, we would recommend only asking one to come back and present their costed ideas. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with and which you believe will be as passionate about your business as you are.

Putting that extra bit of effort in, right at the beginning, is an investment worth making. You need to get the right agency for you. Otherwise, you may just be doing it all over again a bit further down the line!

David Morgan is chairman of The Mission

Further reading on taking on agencies

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