9 points to consider when choosing your advertising agency

It is difficult to select an advertising agency at a time when marketing has become more complex and classical models seem to collapse. It is no light task to choose an agency that will support your campaign or deployment.

To assist you in your choice, Enigma has designed an Agency Decision Process Matrix:

Get it here

This matrix is based on nine important questions you need to ask. After a brief overview, we’ll take a detailed look at each one.

Context

Deep knowledge of the context can help you analyze the general situation by answering simple questions about the agency—its clients, competences, and fees.

  1. Does the agency work for one of my competitors?

The Agency

It is essential to learn more about the agency, its work style, its methods of analysis and its achievements, so as to assess possible collaboration between various stakeholders and to add value to this relationship.

  1. Is it competent in digital media?
  2. What is the agency’s fee structure?
  3. How does the agency work?
  4. Simple isn’t always better
  5. Achievements
  6. Does the agency talk about KPI (Key Performance Indicator)?

Emotional Factors

You must take into account internal or external recommendations and impressions that you’ve made after speaking with various agencies. It is important to share your initial feeling about the competing agencies regarding their competences, the trust they inspire, and their interactions with their customers.

  1. Recommendations
  2. Listen to your instinct

Context

1. Does the agency work for one of my competitors?

Whether the answer is yes or no, it can have a major impact on your needs. For example, it would be stupid for two hotels with the same name to hire the same agency for referencing purposes. There is no problem if the mandate is to create a visual identity. However, if you are looking for strategic advice, media recommendations, or solutions to increase your market shares, it will not work. At the other end, an agency that works exclusively for one client in a given industry will do everything possible to make the client happy without having to face internal competition.

The Agency

2. Is it competent in digital media?

Even if you are not planning a significant digital deployment, you cannot afford to ignore this media in your communications plan. How competent is the agency in digital media? Does it outsource, and if so, to whom? Do account managers know the metrics in this field? You have to ask for examples of digital integration in classical campaigns.

3. What is the agency’s fee structure?

There are three fee structures in marketing and communication:

  • Commission

This is the most common fee structure. Those who sell traditional media space pay a commission of 5 to 15 percent to the client’s agency. This fee is often added to a low flat fee for visual creations, photo shoots, etc. The advantage is that only the agency can receive the commission; from the client’s perspective, you have the impression that it doesn’t cost you more. The problem with this method is that your business objectives are not aligned with the agency’s goals. The agencies that use that type of fee structure want to make you spend as much as possible. If a cheaper solution exists, it is not in the interest of these agencies to present them to you.

We should add that this commission is also charged for printing jobs and doesn’t usually go above 10 percent. It can be higher for design studios than for advertising agencies, with the same advantages and the same downsides.

  • Flat fee

Every time you ask for something, the agency offers a flat fee to do it. This method is very practical because it is precise and contains the costs. Usually, a flat fee defines the result and includes a number of back-and-forth discussions on the visuals. This method is recommended for small projects or for simple campaigns with specifications. However, it doesn’t work as well when not all the specifications are known.

  • Timesheet

You buy from the agency a number of work days or hours. This method offers great flexibility and provides expertise on issues that have not been yet raised. It is very advantageous when the campaign spans over a long period of time, or when some objects must be continuously adapted. This method works particularly well with agile marketing. However, it is not ideal for a very specific request, such as a poster or a flyer, which is more advantageous with a flat fee.

4. How does the agency work?

Numerous systems can help establish and implement a communications plan. How do competing agencies operate? Success often comes from a well-rounded planning process. When you meet with advertising agencies, have them explain their plan. Does it make sense? Can it help solve your issues? Does the agency use it regularly? Ask for examples that relate to the projects they are showcasing.

5. Simple isn’t always better

The selection of an advertising agency often looks like a beauty contest. With a few colleagues, you meet with each agency for 60 to 90 minutes: 20 minutes of presentation, then Q & A and time to reflect. It is sometimes useful to organize a competition, especially for large campaigns. Beware of simple pitches that define the issue and present a visual solution. This will only tell you that the agency can produce a satisfying visual, but not if it can bring you results.

6. Achievements

It is worth looking at an agency’s achievements and having them explain the process leading to the given results. This is a way to indirectly understand the work method, besides looking at the portfolio, the list of achievements and the case studies. The main point is not that you like their achievements, although it is better if they align with the style. Rather, you should ask yourself the following: if you were the marketing or communications director of that company, would you be pleased with the result?

Take two case studies, one that you really like, and one that you are not sure about, and discuss them with the agency’s representatives. How did they find the solution? Why do you dislike that one? This will trigger a good conversation that will let you learn more about the agency.

7. Does the agency talk about KPI (Key Performance Indicator)?

The agency has talked about its achievements, great. Did they talk about the results they obtained for their clients? Through questions, try to learn if your marketing budget will get you better results with X or with Y. For each given example, ask about impact. Did they meet the client’s expectations, or not? How do they situate themselves vis-à-vis the benchmark? What is their method of analysis to answer these questions?

Emotional Factors

8. Recommendations

You are now hesitating between two agencies. Browse through their portfolios, select some former clients, and contact them. Ask them if they recommend the advertising agency, and what they particularly liked. Check recommendations on the LinkedIn profiles of the people who will work for you. You will have a better sense of their competences and qualities.

9. Listen to your instinct

Don’t forget your personal feeling and share it with your colleagues. Do these representatives look honest? Competent? Do you like their style? The way they speak? A relationship with an advertising agency spans over 24 months, on average. It’s better to get along.

Final thoughts

Selecting an advertising agency is a complex process: strictly follow your decision-making process and ask the right questions. Today’s context turns old priorities around; selection criteria evolve and adapt to the marketing changes triggered by technology, social activities, clients, etc. Visuals are not enough to select an agency: you have to focus on the human dimension and on the synergy created by compatible and efficient work methods. You are not only selecting an agency but a partner with whom you will work on a daily basis and establish a relationship that is key to meeting your goals successfully.

Now it’s your turn. Take action. Use our Agency Decision Matrix to pinpoint your needs – and then use it to find the partner that fits you best.

Agency Decision Matrix Download