Finding the right agency
Are you cost sensitive or after value for money? Do you want to know about process or outcomes? Is it branding or design you want? How important are relationships? Do you want them to have experience in your industry?
Arguably, the principles for choosing a brand agency are the same as for purchasing any service. Be clear about what you want, decide on your purchasing criteria, short list a few agencies, ask them to make a proposal, scrutinise them, make a choice.
Be clear about what you need
Numerous gurus, and even lesser beings, have made the point that before you can solve a problem you first have to define it. Which means a ‘business case’ needs to be developed first that will suggest the type of solution you require – is it brand related, is it a PR issue, do you need to do more marketing, is it all of these things?
Main point – if it’s to do with positioning, identifying your point of difference or building your profile you will need a brand agency.
Decide on your purchasing criteria
This is a tricky one. If your main criteria is price it is likely you will sell yourself short of achieving quality outcomes. If it’s design, you need to question if you are competent to assess its quality. How much importance will you attach to the branding process? Do they have experience in our industry? We believe the importance of this last one can be over-rated; it is perhaps better to judge agencies on the breadth of industries they have worked in.
Main point – try to achieve a ‘balance’ with your criteria and let the short listed agencies know what they are – this means they will provide information that is relevant to your final decision making.
Short list a few agencies
If you’re looking to purchase a prestige car, you don’t look at Mazda, vans or V8s; you compare apples with apples. Same thing applies here. However, some agencies make exaggerated claims about their strategic brand capability – they have the appearance of an apple when in fact they are an orange or a pear.
Main point – ascertain the agency’s core business and select on that basis. This is not to say that other types of agencies don’t have strategic brand capability, but the point is they are not practising it day in, day out and they don’t have the depth of experience that significant brand projects require.
Ask them to make a proposal
Should it include a creative component or focus on credentials and case studies? While the creative shoot-out is a popular tool in the advertising industry, we believe it doesn’t have a place in branding pitches. This is because the brand strategy work is yet to be performed therefore there is no strategic framework to develop creative, let alone judge it.
Main point – the ‘business case’ document should form the basis of the brief to the agencies who should be asked to clarify the issues, outline how they would address them and provide substantiation of their capability. Also, take queries from individual agencies, but don’t necessarily share your responses with the others – reward those that ask ‘discerning’ questions that raise issues you haven’t identified.
This can involve a written document, portfolio, a verbal presentation, agency visit, checking references, and comparing capability, including design work. It also entails gauging the relationship potential and cultural fit.
Main point – include as many touch points as possible and don’t place ‘undue’ emphasis on any particular one, e.g. it is easy to be seduced by the ‘pretty pictures’ in a portfolio or the power of a verbal presentation.