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How to Prevent the Agency Letdown

So, your business needs a marketing communications agency. Where do you start? Common sense tells you to ask for recommendations, look up agencies that you’ve heard have a good reputation and do lots of internet research.

Even if my intention for this blog was to offer you advice on starting an agency search, I couldn’t—not without knowing specifics of your industry, business model and objectives. But what I can offer any business that’s facing an agency search is insight, to help you avoid what I call the “new-home letdown.”

You know what I mean. Before you buy a home, you walk through with the realtor and inspector. Everything passes, so you move in, filled with enthusiasm. But the longer you live there, the more you notice the little problems that didn’t pop up during the inspection. If only you’d known to look more closely for these things before signing the papers.

Hiring a marketing agency is like buying a house, in that it’s a big investment. And as with everything in business, success relies on investing in the right partners. Moreover, if you end up needing to “relocate” to an agency too soon, it will be extremely costly on several levels, especially budget and time. Companies get into trouble by jumping into an agency partnership based on first impressions generated during a single presentation. Diving deeper into certain traits of a potential agency and asking some tough questions can be truly invaluable.

Here are my top five attributes to look for in an agency:

Team members, not workers

You want an agency that fosters a true team dynamic (not one that’s filled with people doing a job to collect a paycheck). Are employees interacting, freely exchanging ideas and respecting one another? Ask them, “Are you proud of the work your agency delivers and the people you execute it with?”


Talk to team members—from accounts people to accountants—to get a feel for the passion they possess for their areas of expertise, as well as yours. An agency should show eagerness to understand what makes your business and your customers tick.

Enthusiastic clients

Talk to those references that an agency provides. Strong agencies have clients who talk about them with love in their voice. If clients trust the agency fully and have that “they have our backs” attitude, you might have found a winner.

A love of metrics

Everyone in an agency must have his or her eye on one prize—measurement—and never shy away from talking numbers. When an agency shows you “killer creative,” see who, if anyone, can tell you how it performed.

Redefining the comfort zone

It’s not enough for an agency to step outside the comfort zone—you need one that’s driven to demolish it, and to set new standards for creative thinking and strategy implementation. An agency should respect you but not be afraid to challenge your thinking and stand up for theirs.

First-impression relationships can be successful. But the best way to minimize effort and expense over the long haul is to take time early on to evaluate your potential agency partner. It will, most assuredly, pay off for your business.

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