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Are You Making The Right Choice, Mr. Client?

Hiring an advertising or social media agency? Flummoxed client are perilously faced with the choice between the devil and the deep sea. Every agency promises path-breaking work, dedicated team, and orgasmic ROIs, not to forget, top-of-mind brand recall. However, a month down the line, the reality seems abysmal. For a big brand, the choice is clear. Follow the global mandate and tie-up with the local branch of their global agency. The selection procedure is largely one-sided. But for an aspiring brand, SMB, or start-up, this is one of the most excruciating decisions. Also, it is vital as it impacts the brand, sales, and future. These days, getting a big agency to pitch for your business is as easy as ordering food via one of the apps. They will come for the kill, salt-and-pepper hair, young talent, MacBook Air and iPads, data and graphs, concept cards, and the complete arsenal. But the moment you sign on the dotted line, all the suits and fancy gadgets disappear, and you find yourself sitting with two interns who have no idea of communication or your brand.

With smaller agencies, the problem is further accentuated by their lack of resources and exposure to branding and communication. The majority of the smaller shops are run by flunkies, who were either fired from basement-based web-based shops or were able to syphon off a client from there to start their own outfits. No wonder; they have no clue about branding, positioning, or even the basic tenets of communication and operate on a 20 post-10 story format. Under the garb of dedicated client servicing, they peddle and package your views with no value addition. These agencies, if you may use the word, try to be your extended family, focusing more on relationship management than actual work. In most cases, they find someone important on your team, grease their palm to ensure their mediocrity keeps getting approved seamlessly. So what is your best option? How could you strike a balance between the two and find the one that is best for your brand? 1. Start within Branding is serious business. Before you hire or even think of hiring an agency, hire someone on your side to handle the agency. Hiring anyone or finding someone with free time or a shared KRA will never work. You need a full-time, experienced marcom professional to handle your communication and branding. The competition is catching up every day, and even with all your product superiority, it is only a matter of time before they catch up with you and seal the coffin. 2. Say it clearly List your objectives and spell them out. What are you looking for? Branding? Positioning? Or a social media campaign? Are you in need of performance marketing, or do you need an agency to run digital campaigns or manage your events? No agency can do all of this. These are specialised verticals. Be specific while hiring.

3. Look for core competence What is the forte of the agency you are planning to hire? Creative, strategy, planning , media, performance marketing, or social media? They might say that they do it all, but don’t let the sales pitch fool you. Every agency has a forte, and you should know it and align your objectives accordingly. 4. Deep dive Ask pertinent questions.

  1. Who is your creative director?

  2. What brands has he worked on?

  3. Who would service your account?

  4. What accounts has the agency handled?

  5. Who is the founder and what is his/her background.

  6. What kind of team will they put on your account?

  7. Would it be full time or part time?

  8. What would be the turnaround time?

5. Show them the money, honey A good agency will cost you. Don’t haggle. Be objective. Calculate the man-hour based on the amount of work.Expect monkeys if you want the moon but can only offer peanuts. 6. SOP Ask the pitching agency about its SOP, brief formats, review frequency, escalation points, etc. Any agency that fails to provide satisfactory answers, furnish SOP documents should not be considered. A word of caution; stay away from one-man shows. They could be economical, but your growing brand requires more hands, heads, and brains.

7. One-on-one A pitch is usually a farce because it is nothing more than recycled creative and deck. Meet the founder, the CEO, and the creative head one on one. Talk to them. Ask them how they plan on taking your brand forward. Seek their views, plans, and opinions. Share yours and see if there is some synergy. Remember, agency business is driven by IQ and EQ. It thrives on a blend of creativity and strategy. No wonder even the large format agencies are driven by creative people and aptly supported by Strategy or vice-versa. If you are looking for a creative agency, look for an agency headed by a creative person. If strategy is what you seek, go the other way. It's not that they can't coexist, but most medium-sized organisations thrive on either one. Although not a hard and fast rule, if the top team has not spent at least 8 years in one of the top 5 agencies, with exposure to various brand launches, strategies, and creative roll-outs, the chances of you burning your hands with the agency are extremely high. So hire carefully, and see your brand grow.

- Amit Shankar For more insights on agency hiring, you can always write to the author at

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