10 Tips for Evaluating an Experiential Marketing Agency Partner

by: Stephen Ross SHARE POST

Evaluating an experiential marketing agency is an important undertaking. Considerable budget dollars will be spent with this partner. At many companies, entering an experiential agency partnership has become complicated, involving promises and a prenup. A “divorce” can be equally complicated. If you want a long-term relationship, here are ten tips to help you make it work.

  1. Do your due diligence. Do a background check. Nothing generates more bad results than blindly issuing RFPs to any and all agencies that want to respond. Hone your candidates by talking to the agency’s other clients, your colleagues, and doing on-line homework. Consider scheduling a getting-to-know-you session, a coffee date, where you meet face to face at the agency’s facility. Find out how long the company has been in business, run a D&B, review their current work.
  2. Ensure a good cultural fit. Although you are the key driver of the evaluation process, the agency will be involved with other departments in your company such as product groups, procurement, and perhaps C-level types. The cultural “fit” can involve edgy vs. conservative creative execution. It can also be about more subjective things. Perhaps tattoos are no big deal to you, but your CFO might not be a fan. Tell the agency about the personality of your company, and allow them to adapt or to walk away. The end product must reflect your company’s culture and brand promise.
  3. Meet the agency team you will work with. Nothing is more insidious than being pitched by the dynamic new business team, only to have a bait and switch experience where you get the agency folks who don’t happen to be busy at the moment. In Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy wrote, “Above all, find out if you like them; the relationship between client and agency has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if the personal chemistry is sour.”
  4. Look for an agency with experience in your industry. Yes, cross-fertilization is good, and benchmarking best practices from other industries ideal. But if you have to provide training on the nuances of your industry, much less the basic environment and regulations, that’s a pretty steep and expensive learning curve—for you!
  5. Determine mutual accessibility. How will you communicate? How many face-to-face meetings will be necessary? What are your expectations for response time? And what does the agency expect from you? What tools are in place to facilitate communication and approvals?
  6. Ask about staffing and review current work. How many employees does the agency have—and how many contractors? How does the agency integrate the work between in-house and independent contractors? Do you have access to everyone? How large is the agency? Too large? Too small? Be honest. Discuss the processes the agency uses to deliver what you need. Is strategy part of the offering—or are they simply all about the build? If there is no process in place to work from a strategy, look elsewhere. Any agency worth its salt will show you its best creative, but down the road, service is as important as creative.
  7. Be transparent. Share what the agency needs to know to do the job and meet your needs. For instance:
    • Budget: if an agency feels your budget is insufficient, you should know that upfront and keep looking.
    • Scope of work: If you have certain parameters for the type of work the agency will do, let them know. It is not unheard of for agencies to expect to do certain work—such as graphics design—only to learn that another agency has been assigned that task.
    • Other agencies in the mix: If there is another agency with whom the potential partner will have to collaborate, be up front about it. Ask if there has been any past collaboration.
    • Decision-making process: If you are the final decision-maker, tell them. If there is a hierarchy of decision makers, tell them that as well.
  8. Communicate trust and values, not fear. As you progress in the selection process, share your and your company’s core values, and ask the agency to do the same. Bullying the agency gets you nowhere.
  9. Only work with an agency that increases (not decreases!) your comfort level. Remember both you and your agency are in business to make money. Your budget isn’t a savings account—it’s an amount of money to be managed. Beating up your agency on price just to be able to tell your managers that you did it is counterproductive and not the behavior of a good partner.
  10. Share your needs, your expectations, and your vision for the future. Then ask the agency to share theirs. If you are in sync, the relationship will be solid.


About the Author

Stephen Ross Vice President, Creative

Stephen Ross, Vice President, Creative, has been generating unique design solutions across industries for more than two decades. He has won awards both for graphic and for 3D design, and he has collaborated on innovative brand promotions for companies such as IBM, Motorola, Disney, Eddie Bauer, Jaguar/Land Rover, Bard, Celgene and Genzyme.