In my last post about finding the perfect communications partner, I outlined some of the key questions clients should ask themselves before contacting agencies. This time around, I look at finding agencies, how to shortlist them, and optimise preparations for the pitch.
What to look for
Once you have a clear brief, a good idea of timings and buy-in from all necessary parties internally, it’s time to get the ball rolling. Thorough desk research can save you a huge amount of time later on, so when deciding which agencies to speak to, you should consider the following:
- If you, or another key member of your team, has previous agency contacts who’ve done great work for you in the past, get in touch again. Your business may have changed, theirs probably has too. But on a personal level, you know each other and know you work well together.
- If you don’t have contacts to call on, look for endorsements from third parties. That might mean recommendations from journalists if you’re looking for a media relations consultancy, or members of trade associations like the BMA in America or the UK’s PRCA. Also, consider consultants whose role is to help match clients with suitable agencies. I’d definitely advise putting a call in to the Recommended Agencies Register, which puts forward only agencies with excellent feedback from their current clients and makes recommendations based on strengths in key areas.
- Think outside the box. You might want experience in your industry, but look out for agencies that work with other companies that service the markets you do. So if you’re a packaging manufacturer, expertise in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and FMCGs might be useful too.
- Equally, even if your immediate need is quite specific (e.g. graphic design), be open to agencies that offer more than that. A full-service agency can not only deliver what you need right now, but will have the clarity of thinking to offer other complementary ideas that will help you better achieve your marketing communications objectives.
Taking it further
Once you’ve got a long list, take the time for a good phone conversation. This should help you narrow down your list to five or six. And then invest in a credentials or chemistry meeting with each of them. Only by speaking to them will you start to get a true sense of the team, its culture and its capability.
Exchange non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) at this stage with the agencies you see potential in, and try not to include more than four in the pitch itself. Apart from being a huge time drain for you, pitching is an expensive and time-consuming process for agencies, and they all want an equal and fair chance of securing your business. Managing incumbents can be complicated. If you have decided definitively not to work with your existing agency, explain why, and offer them a way out of pitching.
When you’ve briefed the shortlisted agencies, remain available to them. Additional questions often crop up and providing answers means you’ll get a response that’s more valuable for your business. This time between brief and pitch can also give you more insight into an agency’s capabilities and thought processes. Agencies appreciate openness and transparency, so let them know how many agencies are on the list, and perhaps if your incumbent is one of them.
In my last post in this series, I’ll look at how to get the most out of pitch day and give some pointers on best practice afterwards. Meanwhile, tell us about your experience and thoughts. How did you find your current agency? Which consultants do you recommend?
If you’d like to find out whether BDB could be your perfect partner, get in touch.
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