Pitch sessions are a lot like interviewing for a new hire. The agency introduces itself, shows what it has to offer, and why you should hire them. It’s an opportunity for a company to get to know an agency in person, not just through their website through their work.
Asking the right questions will clue you in on which agency is a keeper, and which agencies are not. Questions such as:
1. Are you part of the team that will be handling my account?
Let’s say you just sat through an agency pitch. The presenters were charismatic, well-spoken, and prepared with statistics and samples. They’re quick on their feet and know all the right answers.
They’ve even had their teeth whitened and gotten fresh haircuts! In short, you can’t wait to start working with them!
But did they actually say that they’d be assigned to your account?
Some agencies like to put their A-listers on the pitch team to increase their chances of landing the account, only to hand it over to a lesser team after the paperwork’s been signed while they stick to the high-profile clients.
In fact, there are those that have dedicated pitch teams who function as a sales tool to win clients.
This kind of bait and switch might be good for business (theirs), but it doesn’t bode well for your client-agency relationship.
If they’re going to be this dishonest at the start of your relationship, how do you think they’re going to act when it comes time to report bad news?
There’s a good chance that they’ll pad the numbers or lie outright.
2. Do you outsource any of the work that you do?
Most agencies are staffed on a knife edge. They need to balance their team composition so that they can properly service accounts, but be lean enough to survive low seasons.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice (it makes perfect sense, actually), but it does mean that they can easily get overworked. When that happens, agencies usually farm some work out to contractors or complementary agencies.
Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice. It’s a smart business decision because it means that your projects don’t have to wait in line while other things get done.
But you have a right to know who is handling your work. Were they hired for their efficiency? For their skill? Or because they were the lowest bidder?
When you ask this question, make sure you follow up and ask to see samples of the contractor’s work, so you can determine whether or not your projects are in same hands with them—because sooner or later they will land on their lap.
If you don’t like what you see, you’ll have to either prohibit the agency from giving them your projects or turn the agency down entirely.
3. What impressions do you have about our brand?
This is a three for one question that will keep the pitching agency on its toes.
First off, you’re testing their awareness of your brand. If they’re worth your time, they would’ve done their research before entering the room. Do they understand your brand personality and history?
Second, you’re testing their understanding of your market and what they see are the most popular and effective branding and design strategies for your industry. Agencies that aren’t familiar with your industry will have half-baked ideas that will do more harm than good.
Lastly, you’re checking on their branding experience and expertise. Does their analysis make sense based on where you are and where you want to be? Keep in mind that this is a pitch session, not an actual consultation, so they may be a little vague on the details (for all they know, you might just be calling for pitches just so you can steal the ideas and execute them yourself, just to save money).
When you ask this question, don’t expect actual actionable answers. That costs money. You’re asking this question to see their thought process.
4. What do you look for when you hire staff?
Having some insight in their hiring process is valuable because it will tell you more about the kind of people who are going to be working on your project. Among other things, it’ll tell you the minimum amount of expertise that you can expect, as well as the kinds of skills they’re likely to have.
You’ll also be able to infer what the agency prioritizes when it comes to their deliverables. An emphasis on fast workers probably means they value timeliness and productivity.
A focus on highly creative professionals may mean that they produce very artistic, high-concept advertisements.
A well-rounded approach may mean your agency is adaptable and can handle a variety of projects. Don’t be afraid to ask specific follow up questions in order to learn more.
5. What was the most innovative thing you’ve done?
For this question, you’re not just asking about cool stuff that they did. You’re evaluating their answer based on other factors.
- How did they come up with the idea?
- Was it suggested by the client, with the agency executing it?
- How did they relate it to the brand?
- How did they sell it to the brand?
- What was the net effect on the brand’s sales? Was that kind of innovative thinking the norm in their agency?
Marketing is about standing out from the crowd. There are many ways to do it, whether it’s an event, an ad campaign, a viral video, or even a funny 404 page. A marketing agency’s writ is to find ways of being unique that fit with the brand and express its personality.
Not being unique for the sake of being unique. Some agencies are “award hunters”, or agencies that push Avante garde ads on their clients because they want to submit it to the Clio judging panel.
You need to see if the agency you’re going to be working with can be innovative and unique, but do it in a way that benefits you.
8 Signs You Can Trust Your Marketing Agency
It’s perfectly normal for companies to seek outside help for their marketing. Internal marketing departments are usually short-staffed and don’t have the resources to pull off really big projects and campaigns. Dedicated agencies can provide this, as well as expertise on modern marketing trends and tactics.
But like anything involving your brand, you have to be careful who you pair up with. Some agencies will be an “okay” fit, others will be terrible. But if you can find a marketing agency you can trust, the experience will be incredibly satisfying.
1. Relevant Experience
Take a look at the agency’s past customers. Are they in a similar field to yours? Do they have the same audience, or have a familiar message? Rate your agencies based on their experience in your industry. Specializing on big name car brands is all very impressive, but it doesn’t do you any good when you’re trying to sell dairy products.
2. Multi-faceted Marketing
Great marketers don’t stick to one approach when promoting a product. They’ve got a variety of tricks and tactics to promote their clients, and know how to use them effectively. They also know which types of clients and industries are more suited to certain types of marketing promotions.
This kind of flexibility is perfect for your company, so you can reach the maximum number of people without seeming too redundant.
3. They Do their Homework
Think back to the agency’s pitch from when you first met. How prepared were they? Did they know your company and its product well? Or did they stumble through it making wrong assumptions? Do they come prepared during meetings?
If the answer is “yes”, then you’ve probably got a winner. They’re more likely to bring this level of preparation and professionalism to your marketing campaigns and events, which will greatly increase your chances of success.
This trait depends a lot on how you work. Do you prefer someone who keeps you in the loop all the time, and gives you updates unprompted? Or would you rather they leave you to your work and only communicate when there’s something significant, or whenever you ask for information?
Good agencies will tailor their response times to their customers, and adapt to how you want to do business.
5. Modern Tools and Methods
It’s critical for marketers to keep up with their audiences. New media such as social networking, the Internet, and mobile marketing pop up and fade away all the time, and a great marketing agency will be quick to understand the pros and cons of each; when to adopt it and when to drop it like a hot potato.
6. Questions, Lots of Questions
Smart marketers never assume they know everything. Even if they have long experience in an industry, a client will always have qualities that make them unique from everyone else. Your agency should be digging for information, for stories or scraps of trivial knowledge that will be the key to building your next big brand or marketing campaign.
7. They Take the Long View
A good agency will never sacrifice the long-term health of your brand for a short-term gain. They will eschew tactics like black hat SEO techniques, fire sales on luxury brands, and sponsorship deals with flash-in-the-pan celebrities who don’t fit your brand. They want to build you a brand that will last a lifetime.
You want an agency that won’t hesitate to give you bad news. Not because they want to, but because you need to know. These are the agencies that have your welfare in mind, and not that of their company. They know that you need to be armed with up-to-date information if you’re to succeed, and that covering up bad news will only do you harm.
Have you found a marketing agency you can trust? What did they do to win you over? Share your stories in the comments below!
6 Signs Your Marketing Agency Doesn’t Fit
Your relationship with your marketing agency is just like a relationship with a significant other, with the difference being a lot more money involved.
Sometime the two just don’t fit together, no matter how much you try to make it work. It can take some time before you see the signs, and by then it might be much too late.
You might be in the middle of a campaign or have already sunk lots of money into the partnership, which makes it much more difficult to cut them off and leave.
In order to save you the pain and expense, I’ve listed down six signs that it’s time to save your brand and take your business elsewhere.
Are you trying to reach your account manager, only to be given excuse after excuse? Does the agency take too long to respond to your messages? Chances are you’ve been bumped down a few spots on the priority list in favor of bigger accounts.
This often happens with smaller businesses that don’t have the budget for ambitious or high-volume marketing plans.
Don’t put up with this kind of treatment. You should be given the same value as other clients, and if your current agency won’t do it, find someone who will.
At SpellBrand, we put communication at the forefront. In fact, I am directly accessible by all clients – as the CEO. I pick up the phone all the time.
Marketing agencies are supposed to be on the cutting edge of new media and marketing techniques such as social media channels and email newsletter campaigns etc. But if their idea of social media promotion is to set up a MySpace page, then you need to step back and start looking for somebody else.
Bait and Switching the Teams
Everyone puts their best foot forward at the start of a relationship. For agencies, this might mean using the best project team to present their marketing pitch. But pay attention to those names and remember them after you sign your retainer contract.
If those names disappear from your contact list, only to be replaced by people whom you’ve never heard of, chances are your account has been assigned to a lesser “B” team instead.
While the “B” team might actually do a decent job of it, this kind of sneaky behavior is a turn-off that might indicate how the agency might handle the rest of your relationship—particularly if things go bad.
They’re Ignorant about Your Business
Ideally, you want to be represented by people who actually know the business they’re promoting. This prevents embarrassing mistakes and helps generate useful ideas. But if the agency’s philosophy is “fake it ‘til you make it”, and even you can tell that they’re faking, then how can they fool the customer?
Thankfully, this is one sign you can read well before the relationship actually begins. Scan their list of former clients and see if there are any businesses related to yours. If you don’t see any, don’t be afraid to ask—the list might not be complete. Quiz them on what they know about your industry and any significant related experience.
Watch out for “award hunters” that are in it for their own purposes. These are the ones who push for lofty, high-profile events that don’t really fit with your intended direction or budget.
Likewise, agencies that nag you for more events, ads, and campaigns without checking their effectiveness might be trying to bleed money out of your bank account, without regard for how much value you’re getting out of the deal.
No agency worth their salt would ever make inflated guarantees just to land an account. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to predict how customers would react to a marketing campaign.
Second, it’s crass, lowbrow, and grossly unprofessional. There’s a reason that guarantees like those are relegated to late-night shopping channels and used car salesmen.