Of the many marketing challenges facing a new company, securing quality agency representation is at the top of the list. In the start-up madhouse that is Silicon Valley, some 3,000 or more newly formed companies all want the same thing-to have the best public relations agency, design firm and ad agency in town take their business.
And here’s the rub…
In today’s new economy, the agencies don’t pitch you on why you should select them. The tables have turned, and it’s now the company seeking assistance that pitches the agency to take its business! Add to that the fact that some agencies ask for equity in the company as part of the deal, and you have the start of a colossal headache.
One PR agency that I work with gets at least 40 calls a week from entrepreneurs who want them as their agency. Unfortunately, the agency only takes one new client every 10 to 12 weeks. So, it narrows the field to five opportunities from the more than 300 plus that come its way, before it starts the selection process.
Now I know this is not the case in every market around the country, but it highlights the fact that in today’s robust economy, agencies have a choice of who to work with. Getting an agency to want you on its client roster is not to be taken lightly. The following check list is designed to provide you with agency appeal and to keep the agency on board as a long-term and productive partner.
Define your communications challenge – While your agency should be able to help you with this, it’s important not to abdicate this vital task completely. It helps to have completed some serious thinking on this topic prior to any agency conversations. A clear, concise creative brief is a great tool for crystallizing your thinking and should include, at minimum, your company’s mission, target audience, competitors, product benefits and any points of differentiation from existing competition. Be careful who you show this to at the agency, because you will most likely receive a bear hug of gratitude.
Provide clear and consistent direction – After your core strategy is set, a sure fire way to have your agency quit is to pull them in different directions on a frequent basis. While evolution and course correction is often necessary to fine-tune marketing programs, consistent direction not only creates good marketing, it keeps your agency focused and productive. Make good, sound decisions and stick with them. You’ll be surprised at the results it gets.
Set realistic and measurable objectives – Every entrepreneur wants to see his company in The Wall Street Journal (advertising and editorial). Unfortunately, every company doesn’t need or deserve to be there. You should have realistic expectations of what PR and advertising can do, and work with the agency to set mutually agreed upon goals and objectives that are attainable and measurable. For example, we recently launched a recruitment advertising campaign and set a goal with the agency to have it drive a specific number of recruits through our HR department. We agreed on the number together, based on the type and amount of media we were going to use. We hit our goal because everyone had clear expectations about how much work the advertising had to do.
Have a single internal contact with the authority to act – Centralize your marketing decision function and then have it do what it’s supposed to do: make decisions. Nothing kills an agency’s spunk more than indecision and procrastination. And put that function with a person who has the authority to make the decision without having to worry about being second-guessed by higher ups (a true recipe for mediocre marketing and agency departures).
Give marketing the time it deserves – No one has time for marketing until it gets blamed for all the company’s problems. Participate in the process early and often, and give it quality time. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.
Agencies are people, too – You do a lot at your company to attract and retain good people. Use some of those techniques on your agency. The same things that motivate and keep your people happy will work for them, too. An excited and motivated agency team means you get better quality work and lots of attention from the agency’s best people.
There’s no guarantee that acting on all these tips will get you the agency of your dreams, but in today’s topsy-turvy world of agency relationships, you certainly won’t get it if you don’t. Happy hunting.