Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2016 and has been updated for relevance and accuracy.
Selecting an experiential marketing agency requires all hands on deck. The wrong partner can be a disaster—creatively, financially, and psychologically. When you review where the marketing dollars go, spending on events is near the top of the budget spreadsheet. The process doesn’t have to be complicated and convoluted. The magic word is ‘process.’ And yes, breaking up is hard to do when it’s your agency, so finding the best fit for a long-term relationship is important. relationship, here are ten tips to help you make it work.
Ten Tips for Selecting an Experiential Marketing Agency
1. Do your due diligence. Conduct a background check. Nothing good comes from blindly issuing an RFP to any and all agencies that want to respond. Talk to the agency’s other clients and your colleagues. Research online and off-line. Schedule a get-to-know you session, a coffee date, where you meet face to face at the agency’s facility. Check out the corporate culture. Find out how long the company has been in business, run a D&B, and 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 experience a bait and switch 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 experiential marketing 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 experiential marketing 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 an agency 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 upfront 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 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 so 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.