When it comes to choosing an agency, how do you differentiate between long-term relationship potential and a cheesy chat-up line?

 
 

How to find an agency you’ll love forever

As couples scrabble around to order their Valentine’s Day treats, we’re thinking about another kind of relationship.

A strong agency-client partnership does more than solve problems and raise your profile. It’s there to deliver results, come up with creative ideas, support your brand, and help you out in times of crisis. With almost a quarter of CMOs turning to external agencies during the pandemic, they need to be sure they’re getting the right help.
 
So, how can you tell the difference between a long-term relationship and a cheesy chat-up line?

Pick an agency that aligns with your values.
 
We all have a different idea of our values – these could be management styles, industry sectors or workplace cultures. When you’re starting your search for an agency, look for clues: is their website full of ‘glitzy’ marketing speak, or can they back up their claims with genuine case studies? 
 
Is their business development manager interested in what you have to say, or are they trying to baffle you with jargon? 
 
Every company has a different idea of what constitutes value. You may be interested in ‘deep-dive’ reports, looking at the finer nuances of social media engagement or website metrics. Alternatively, you may only want the bottom line: how does this grow the business? 
 
Make sure you’re clear about your goals from the first interaction. For example, we recently on-boarded Cutwel: a specialist engineering tools and accessories supplier that wanted a no-nonsense, strategic approach to corporate PR.
 
Look for evidence of industry knowledge.
 
A red flag is an agency that gets back to you instantly with a generic proposal that shows no consideration for your business or industry. Do they have other clients in your sector? Do they understand your customers and your routes to market? 
 
You can’t expect them to know your business inside out from a single meeting, but look for signs that they understand the industries you operate in and the people you are targeting. If you’re a niche business to business manufacturer and their website only talks about work with fashion brands, they may not be your perfect match.
 
Talk to the people who know them best.
 
Is your prospective agency prepared to let their clients do the talking? You can find out a lot about a prospective life partner by talking to the people who know them; so why not do the same with an agency? 
 
Are they forthcoming with clients who are happy to speak to you about how the agency team works and the value they bring? Speaking to existing clients will give you a good sense of whether the agency is right for you. 
 
Do they go beyond the brief?
 
A true Prince Charming doesn’t just tell you what you want to hear. When you’re having those initial talks with potential suppliers, assess how creative they are. Do they come up with new ideas or can they suggest opportunities to work with other industry connections? A great indicator of a long-term relationship is an agency that is willing to connect their clients or share their contacts.

The best agencies will go above and beyond to help you because they can – not because they’ll get something out of it. 
 
Trust your instinct.
 
Imagine that all-important first date. It can take as little as seven seconds to make a first impression, so it needs to be the right one. If you’re building an instant rapport, can share war stories or talk about mutual connections, then you’re onto a winner.
 
But make sure you’re building rapport with the right people. Do your initial meetings involve the team who will be delivering the work? A meeting with a business development manager can be like a bad blind date – full of good promises, and a nightmare in reality. You should be able to speak directly to the team that will be managing your account and see if you hit it off.
 
And if you’re not sure…
 
Suggest a ‘second date’. Rather than committing to a full 12-month campaign, is there an initial project where you can test the water? This could be a short-term campaign to promote an event or a new product launch, for example. And, if it goes well, that third date could be the start of a beautiful relationship...
 
If you're looking for a lasting relationship with an agency, we could be the one. Get in touch for a chat or take a look at some of our case studies here.
 
    
 
The Partners Group

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