They say that choosing an agency partner is a lot like getting married after the first date. It can be awfully difficult to “date” an agency without getting serious right away.
So how do you make sure you’re not going to wake up one morning and realize you don’t recognize the person on the other side of the bed?
When you’re choosing a marketing agency of any type (advertising, PR, digital, etc.), don’t you want to know exactly whom you will be working with? The most important single factor for success is the quality of the people on your team. At large agencies you get pitched by top creative people and everything seems great. You hire the firm. You’re excited.
[pullquote]Most small agencies only have an “A” team.[/pullquote]
Then your actual project team is assembled. It’s often not the same people who pitched you.
Frequently at large agencies, the senior people spend the bulk of their time pitching new business, and not necessarily doing real client work. “Some agencies tend to over-promise the everyday services of their top executives,” states Leonard Saffir in his article Big Agency versus Small: Bigger is Not Always Better.
“In fact, I left the big-agency world because more and more of my time was spent pitching new business and less on the day-to-day creative side… The clients who knew me wanted to see me regularly. However, as I was a member of the management team, more and more of my time was devoted to bringing in new business and controlling our expenses, and less was spent on creative work.”
Brian Cross, a former global practice group leader of digital communications at mega-PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, concurs:
“I’ve spoken with everyone from account leads, to creative directors, to technology in at least 4 of the major holding companies’ portfolios [the holding companies are these huge mega-firms, most of them public, that own the majority of marketing, advertising, PR and digital agencies, and include companies like Omnicom, WPP, MDC, IPG, Havas, and Publicis] and all have said the same thing… ‘I spend more time looking at spreadsheets, WIP reports, forecasts, justifying revenue targets, and then double and triple checking these things, than actually working on the client’s work. And when I do have the time (which ironically, is the thing all those tools are meant to measure), we can’t simply concentrate on good work, but rather how quickly, and how cheaply can we achieve the goal?'”
Agencies, like any service organization, survive by optimizing billable hours at the highest rates possible. When your project comes along, who will be assigned to your team? Will it be the best people within the organization who are likely already busy, working 60 and 70 hours weeks (and risking creative burnout, but that’s a subject for another post)? Or will it be the people who happen to not be booked at that time – the people sitting “on the bench”? Unless you’re an advertising behemoth like Budweiser, Apple or Toyota, good luck. You’re lucky if you get the “B” team. You’re certainly not going to get the “A” team.
[pullquote]Hiring an agency is hiring an extension of your internal team.[/pullquote]
Most small agencies only have an “A” team.
Even if a large agency has 800 employees (or more), only a very small handful of them will ever be involved with your account. Hiring an agency is hiring an extension of your internal team. Who works on your account is truly critical.
One of the best complements I ever remember our agency receiving was from a marketing VP at our client Clairol, who told us she felt like we worked “right down the hall” from her. She considered us a part of her team, and she knew she could count on us.
How well do you know your agency team?