Brand Strategy

Agency Selection: Does it Have to Be “It’s Complicated?”

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Phil Ouellette


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Agency Selection: Does it have to be “It’s Complicated?”

When you create your profile in a social site like Facebook, you can declare your personal status to the world:


In a Relationship


It’s Complicated

When marketers enter the dating world of agency search and selection, they have an ideal profile of the type of firm they want and the relationship they desire.

Perhaps, it’s just a hook up for a singular project. Or maybe they’re looking for someone with whom they can connect and grow with for the longer haul.

Just as marketers have their criteria for selecting a partner, at LSB, we have a few simple questions we ask before entering into a relationship. After all, the courting process can be a big emotional and financial investment, so it’s worthwhile to make sure the relationship can work for both parties.

Our evaluation starts with these questions:

  • What do they need?
  • Do we believe we can help them?
  • Can we work together?
  • Will they make a commitment?

Find the Need

It all starts with a sound understanding of the potential client’s need. The problem is that it’s not always clear what’s really needed when a client enters the agency selection process.

Most initial inquiries begin with a request for “things.” Maybe it’s a video, an ad or microsite. Perhaps the potential client believes they need a campaign to jumpstart awareness of their brand in the marketplace.

But further discussion may reveal what they really need is a targeted program to lift sales with a specific channel partner to maintain their position on shelf in retail.

Listening for the right cues to understand a business’s real needs is a key foundation of a strong relationship.

Can We Help?

With a better understanding and agreement on the real need, we want to know if we can make a meaningful difference.

  • Do they know what will define success?
  • Do we have the capabilities and experience to move those measures of success?

In order to create a successful outcome, there needs to be common understanding between both agency and client on what success will look like before the final agency selection is made.

This is the time to be honest and even bold. Agency people strive to solve big problems—it is a tremendous source of emotional satisfaction.

And let’s be honest, there’s clearly an element of self-interest for us. Successful outcomes for our clients —“fame and fortune”—usually accrue to agencies as well. We build strong case studies, gain recognition for our work and ideally, receive a flattering testimonial or referral from our clients.

Starting with a big challenge that has a defined outcome for success is a compelling reason to work with a prospective client.

Working Together

Marketing has become a much more scientific and quantifiable activity in the past decade. At the same time, uncovering consumer insights, developing marketing strategies and creating effective work remains in some ways a subjective pursuit.

No doubt there will be many future animated discussions between the client and agency team about what will move the proverbial needle. This is a people-driven business best fueled by strong passions.

That’s why it’s so important we ask ourselves if we believe the chemistry exists to foster a strong relationship between both parties—one that can be built upon a foundation of mutual respect and trust —and if we share both common values and a view of the future.

That’s why when we’re participating in the agency selection process, we like to dig deeper into how we’ll work together.

  • Are there defined roles and responsibilities for each party?
  • Is there a clear decision-making and approval process? Not much blunts effective work more than changes in direction and rework, and it’s not good for the budget either.

The Agency Selection “I Do” — Making a Commitment

Which leads to a subject that usually causes most relationships to suffer: money.

Let’s face it. Talking about money is hard. It often defines the level of commitment. But when we talk about making a commitment to invest, we don’t necessarily mean big seven and eight figure budgets (though yes, those are nice too).

A smaller, focused budget with a clearly defined objective and outcome can lead to very effective creative approaches. And more often than not, a focused approach can lead to early success that helps marketers secure additional investment dollars.

That’s good for both marketers and agencies.

Like courtship, finding the right partner for a client-agency relationship is an intuitive and emotional endeavor for both parties.

Making sure the head is guiding the heart is usually a good place to start before the investment gets too big for either party, and the willingness to walk away becomes harder to do.

Phil Ouellette


Listens to Christmas music year-round.

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