Picking an agency partner is a big decision. The process is challenging, time consuming, and tedious. And identifying the right team requires a high level of effort and attention to detail that is difficult to make the time for.
As Director of Acquisition at Digital Surgeons, I'm tasked with discovering new talent and new clients.
For the past 9 years, I've recruited and added new members to organizations. Over that time, I have conducted thousands of interviews and placed hundreds of candidates; learning foolproof ways to make sure I'm adding the right person to the right team.
As my role at Digital Surgeons evolves, I've now added a new hat to my collection: a ‘new business’ hat. Most recently, I’ve been fielding leads and developing those leads into new client relationships. After my first new biz call, I immediately noticed the similarities between choosing the right candidate and choosing the right agency. After all, recruiting is recruiting, whether you're adding someone new to your internal team or extending your team to include an agency.
The same process applies.
And the same emotions are involved.
Both are daunting. Both require a huge investment of your time. Both can cost you tons of money if you make the wrong decision. Both can bamboozle you by boasting their skills and capabilities, but leave you underwhelmed when put to action.
So here are my tried and true tips for adding the right agency for your organization. Also, I’d be a terrible new business manager if I didn’t pepper in some light selling. #shamelessplug
The first step is to identify the Why, What, Who, and When.
Why do you need an agency partner? What business objectives will they tackle? What problems will they help solve? What’s the time frame? Who will be the selection team? Who will be the day-to-day team? What is the budget? When do you want an agency selected?
Based on your needs, what type of agency would be best suited for your organization? A full-service agency? A firm that specializes in branding or digital media? Do you want your agency to be local to your headquarters, or are you OK with handling most meetings through video conferencing? When you have that narrowed down, throw some of those terms into Google and start reaching out. You can also ask around for referrals. Tap your network. Who do you know that works at an agency or worked with an agency recently?
Once you develop a list of potential agencies, it’s time to vett them.
Start with an email outlining a little about your company, your challenges, and what you’d like an agency to help you with. A good agency will respond within 24 hours asking you to get on a call.
Once you are on the call, be wary of an agency that can offer a solution and hard price off the rip. Your first call should be about the agency digging into your company. A good agency will not try to shove a solution down your throat. It’s nearly impossible to understand your organization—your competitors, your stakeholders, your business problems, the way you measure success, your perception in the wild, your current marketing mix—on the first call.
Partners or order takers?
What’s the difference?
An agency partner is a team that understands your long-term business goals and co-creates solutions that directly funnel up to these objectives.
Order takers check tasks off a list. They are told what to do by the client, and they do it. Order takers are focused on what’s right in front of them and aren’t necessarily thinking long term.
One way isn’t better or worse than the other, it really just has to do with your needs. Do you need ideas, strategy, and growth? Or do you have a punch list that needs to be executed?
Digital Surgeons prefers to work as partners. We often turn down projects where we are simply asked to pull levers. We feel we will never be able to actualize your vision and goals if we aren’t able to dive into your business beyond a creative brief.
Pay attention to the scope and proposal process.
Were you provided a scope after your first intro call? That might seem quick and efficient, but can often lead to a lot of assumptions being made. And assumptions can lead to missed timelines, additional scopes, and unmanaged expectations.
If a potential new agency has a few more steps to the process, hear them out.
We like to continue the conversation with a kickoff intake call followed by us diving into all your existing brand, target audience, owned media properties, competitors, and market.
From there, we can design a scoping and ideation workshop specific to you. Then, we host and facilitate a half-day workshop in which we will gamestorm with you and your key stakeholders around the best way to accomplish your business goals and objectives within the time and budgetary constraints you have for the project.
We aim to put the rigor and effort in to remove the uncertainty and reduce project risks. Our process goes through a set of proprietary steps and exercises to tightly identity the specifics around what we are creating and the fixed fee to deliver. This differs from other agencies who will underbid a job to win the business and then file “death-by-change-controls,” which bloat your budget and extend your timeline.
Do they get it?
A good agency will listen to your request and immediately offer a solution. A great agency will listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to respond. They will help you recognize your challenges, help you express them, and uncover pain points you had not even identified yet.
You don’t want a ‘Yes’ agency or an agency that tells you how great you are and just regurgitates your brief back to you.
You should seek out an agency that makes you a little uncomfortable and pushes you to think beyond the short term. Seek out an agency that connects the dots and balances the immediate wins with the long game.
Do they have the skills?
How do you know if an agency can actually perform vs. just giving you lip service?
A good start is requesting industry- and/or capability-specific case studies. The case studies should be more than just pretty pictures. It should speak to results. They should include metrics and measurement.
You can also request a list of references and past clients that would be willing to answer questions about the agency relationship, the work, and outcomes.
You should also determine if the agency is full service or if they have a core speciality. You should find out what percent of the work is performed in-house vs. outsourced? Determine what tools, platforms, software they are proficient in.
Do they fit in with your culture?
If the answer is yes, keep searching. Read that again. It’s important.
This may make you squirm a little, but it’s vital to making your business goals, not just a pipe dream, but reality.
Hiring an agency that mirrors your culture will give you more of the same. Uniform groups produce uniform thinking. They will perpetuate the same ideas, the same way of thinking, and the same way of doing. And that’s all well and good if you are running an assembly line.
But you are looking to tell your story. To be remembered. To make a difference.
And, in order to do that, you need to infuse and introduce fresh perspectives, experiences, and frameworks.
To quote one of my favorite authors and leadership coaches, Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
Hire an agency that will disrupt.
One that will push you outside your comfort zone.
An agency that will have you exchanging raised eyebrows with your boss across the boardroom table.
At Digital Surgeons, our sole purpose is to transform ideas into reality. Our unique experiences, preferences, and frameworks combine in unexpected and magical ways. The end result of this fusion is a recipe for forward thinking.
Want to put Digital Surgeons to the test?