A strong relationship between client and agency is vital to creating the best possible work. In order to foster an honest, transparent working relationship, you should come to the table prepared and ready to discuss the needs and fundamental values that make up your brand.
In truly collaborative working relationships, no party is left in the dark. You should be made aware as new milestones are reached in the creative process, have opportunities to provide feedback, and have reasonable expectations set by the agency. In order to build long lasting relationships, there should be a healthy, back-and-forth flow of communication, with very little uncertainty. It is better to plainly explain what you mean again and again, than to assume you were understood.
You should first consider the scope of services you require. To list the basics, there are full-service agencies, creative boutiques, digital/interactive agencies, in-house agencies, and freelance consultants. Whether you require assistance with creative concept development, web-based marketing, media strategy, or simply seeking help from within your company, it is essential to understand what your goals are, and how close you can get within budget.
You should be able to clearly articulate your brand’s values. If you can’t, you may need to back up and add branding to your list of needs. This will be the foundation for all marketing and business, so it is important to get it right. For this step, it can be helpful to think of your brand as someone you know, and describe their personality. For example, if your brand had a dog, what breed would they have? Would they hold the door for you? What are their weekend plans? It may feel silly, but being prepared with this information will usually save your budget from a lengthy discovery process, and may even make you better at your job.
Knowing how your brand stacks up in the marketplace is important information to give an agency. Different strategies apply to different situations, so it is crucial that you know where you stand. For instance, a long-time industry leader may choose to remind consumers why they’ve succeed where others have dwindled away, whereas a scrappy underdog might emphasize how they provide a more personalized service. In a time of extensive media clutter, it is not only important to be different, but to be authentic as well. A successful brand finds a position that only it can own, and embodies it. Can you think of yours?
Play guidance counselor for a second, and ask your brand, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” If you have a solid answer for this, a thoughtful agency can likely begin laying some of the ground work for these goals. It is good practice to iterate your own goals now and again, while contemplating how you will achieve them. Short-term goals provide the agency with a to-do list, while long-term goals alert the agency to keep an eye out for opportunities to make the more subtle, fundamental changes which will keep the transition smooth and organic.
Understanding your target audience is a key requirement before reaching out to an agency. It is crucial for the agency to know what type of market they will be trying to attract before they can create anything of use. By focusing on a narrow market segment, the agency can more effectively craft messaging that resonates with the target audience.
How are you going to reach your audience? In other words, you should know how and where they consume media. Identifying how to effectively position your message before them, at times when they are receptive, can be tricky. Beyond that, you should go in with a clear expectation that the majority of your budget will be put toward media. Air time, magazine spreads, digital display credits–it all adds up.
There are two things you should understand about the relationship between advertising and marketing. First, advertising is only a small part of the sales promotion subset of marketing, yet the terms are commonly used interchangeably. Second, because advertising comes at the tail end of the process, every cut corner suddenly becomes painfully obvious. These insights are healthy, but not always easy to process.
When it comes to choosing the perfect agency–like the perfect hammer or screwdriver–there really isn’t one. However, with your newly articulated understanding of your brand and the challenges it faces, you should be sufficiently empowered to find the right one for the job. Now, don’t you have some homework to do? Good hunting!