So you’ve decided to hire an advertising agency – excellent choice! Advertising agencies come in all shapes and sizes – from small, locally-based agencies to large, international conglomerates. With thousands of advertising agencies in the United States, how does one choose? We have provided some factors to consider in selecting an agency that is a good fit for your business needs.

Define your intent.
The first step in choosing an advertising agency is to clearly define what you are hoping to gain from the partnership. Do you need help developing strategy or driving execution? Do you wish to become the leader of your category? Enter a new geographical territory? Whatever your goal – clearly defined business objectives will help guide you through the process of choosing the right agency.

Conduct initial research. Compile a list of eligible agencies. Do a Google search, ask a non-competitive business owner in your industry or reach out to media outlets for recommendations. Once you have a list of contenders, further narrow the list down by considering:

  • What type of agency are they? Some agencies are full service, while others specialize in a specific function, such as Public Relations. Go back to your intent – what type of services do you really need?
  • Are they currently handling the account of your direct competitor?
  • Where are they located? While many businesses prefer to have face-to-face interaction with their agency, it’s not uncommon for a business to work with an agency in another city or state. If you are comfortable with the majority of your conversations being conducted by phone or email, don’t limit yourself geographically.

Choose fluidity over size. There is much debate about whether it’s best to work with a large or small agency, but what you really want is an agency that is fluid and can adjust to your workload. What are you going to demand of the agency in terms of time – and can they meet your deadlines? If you assigned a large project or group of projects they don’t have the capacity to handle, how would they ensure it was completed by your deadline? Do they have a network of freelancers they can reach out to if needed? It is important to partner with an agency that can adjust to meet the needs of its clients.

Don’t base your decision solely off industry experience. Many businesses think that working with an agency experienced in their industry is a requirement. While industry experience is helpful, choosing an agency that is new to your industry could yield that fresh perspective that you’ve been looking for. Isn’t differentiating yourself from competitors the goal, anyway? Sure, there might be a learning curve, but no agency will ever know as much as you do about your industry, so if you’re going to base your decision on experience, choose the experience that really matters: marketing and communications.

Consider core competencies. Let’s be honest – most agencies do not excel in every discipline. Ask an agency about their core competencies, and consider whether those strengths align with your objectives. You may discover that the agency you’re considering is particularly skilled in print advertisements, but you want to produce a viral video so brilliant that it will trump Evian’s “Baby & Me” – so why not find an agency that is more closely aligned with your goals?

Is there chemistry? The key to long-term success is a good working relationship, so make sure that you like the people and their approach. Also consider professionalism. How do they conduct themselves when interacting with your business – because as your agency, they represent you. You want an agency that will conduct themselves in a professional manner when working on your behalf.

What’s your budget? Agency fees can vary dramatically, and some companies cannot afford the agency that they really want to work with. Fees may be a flat rate by project, hourly, or a mix. Do they have minimum billing increments? Do they have a retainer structure? Be sure you fully understand their fee structure so there are no surprises when you get your first bill. You don’t want to choose an agency that your company can’t sustain financially in the long run.

Advertising is an investment. Finding the right agency can be a time consuming process, but the effort is worth it in the long run when you find a partner that helps your business achieve, and even exceed its goals.

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