Considerations Before Partnering with a Digital Agency

The decision to hire a digital advertising agency is a significant investment. It often requires a rigorous evaluation of a company’s business needs before entering into a new partnership. Most independent, traditional full-service advertising agencies (small and large) service many companies and claim they are well-equipped to support their clients on digital initiatives. Unfortunately, in reality, most of these agencies lack the ability to provide the digital strategy to market across disciplines such as search, social, and mobile.

Making the decision to select a digital partner has become a big question with many companies. With so many ad agencies in existence, companies need to carefully assess their immediate needs and determine which agency is the right fit for their company. Obviously, we know chemistry seals the deal with any partnership. But, there is an evaluation process that is key to selecting your digital agency partner. Consider these four steps the next time you are hiring an agency.

Step 1: Determine Your Need for a Digital Agency

As mentioned, selecting a digital agency is a significant investment and should be carefully assessed and evaluated. For example, determine if your digital programs are falling short on your return on investment. If you have hired an AOR, ask the question, does this one-stop shop have the capabilities to offer the best expertise in every digital channel. Also, consider your in-house resources to effectively manage these programs. In addition, determine the following:

  • What are your primary business objectives?
  • Should you use a full-service agency or do you need a specialty firm specific to your digital needs?
  • Who will manage the agency relationship?

Business culture and priorities should also be assessed before beginning the review process. Determine your internal priorities such as good creative, or detailed analytic reporting must-haves before targeting digital agencies. This will ensure that you are seeking out agencies with strong capabilities specific to your top priorities.

Step 2: Understand Compensation Models

When selecting an agency, there are a wide range of agency costing and budgeting options to consider. Understanding these models offers advantages and challenges. It varies by both type of agency and client engagement, and requirement and expectation. These models should be agreed upon by what is a practical, mutually beneficial, compensation mix. The chart below represents commonly used fee models and should be considered when selecting an agency.

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Also, make sure you have determined your budget range and plan to disclose with the agencies you may be considering. While price matters especially in today’s challenging economy, don’t make your decision exclusively by this factor. Do not try to squeeze the agency’s bottom-line unreasonably; this could result in downgrading the quality of talent on your business, and reduce service offerings. Pay the agency appropriately, and look to increase savings by possibly improving operational efficiencies. Remember, you are hiring an agency for their quality of work, so don’t let costs control the entire process.

Step 3. Begin the Selection Process

Yes, selecting an agency can be a daunting process. Some companies are forced to do RFP projects on a regular basis creating a significant amount of work for all parties involved. Don’t use the RFP to collect data, but instead collect knowledge. This review process should serve as a way to find which targeted agencies are most interested in your business, and align with your culture.

Consider opting out of the formal RFI/RFP process which usually includes inviting 15, 30 or even 50 agencies during the initial invitation. A general best practice is to invite no more than four agencies. Your initial “long” list of agencies should be short and focused. Also, consider looking at networking with your marketing peers to find out who their agencies partners are, and why they chose them. Reach out to those recommended agencies, and discuss your business needs. Keep in mind that the purpose of this will help by:

  • Allowing agencies to decline if this opportunity is not a good fit
  • Enabling you to develop a rapport with agency key contacts

Another option to consider, if you are struggling with determining which agencies to invite for the review, is to rely on trade associations such as the 4As. Also, you may want to hire a search consultant, who specializes in conducting account reviews, to provide advice.

4. Select the Right Agency

Once you’ve received your requested RFP responses, arrange for face-to-face presentations with each selected finalist. These presentations allow you to meet the core team that would be dedicated to your account if selected as your partner. During these meetings, consider quantitative and qualitative factors such as the following:

  • Agency Brand Reputation
  • Channel Specialist or Full-Service
  • Vertical Experience
  • Culture
  • Talent
  • Client References
  • Client Support
  • Pricing
  • Deliverables

With so many options available, it’s no wonder selecting a digital agency is a complicated process. Making a successful decision begins internally with assessing and evaluating your business, staffing, and technology needs. After this is determined, begin looking outward for agencies that align to your criteria. Ultimately, selecting an agency will be based on their core values, talent, and passion for your business. Choosing the right partner can begin a long and prosperous relationship.

Terri Deasy is the Vice President of Business Development at Flying Cork.