28 Jan

5 principles to finding the perfect agency

Consumers’ relationship with bricks ‘n’ mortar retail has been on the rocks for a while now. It started with Blockbusters and Debenhams but Covid-19 could be the nail in the coffin. Is it time for the spare room and separate beds or are we able to redefine the relationship we have with the high street for the better?

The customer journey has never been so fragmented and complex. Different platforms, channels and shifting habits are making things extremely difficult for digital marketing folk to pin customers down, serve the right content and tease them down the purchase funnel. One way to save physical retail is to accept that it isn’t necessarily just a commercial channel anymore, but yet another touchpoint in a blended online/offline world and perhaps, part of a larger (e)Commerce strategy.

As an Intermediary, Ingenuity have seen a huge amount of brands looking to upgrade their eCommerce infrastructure as a result of the changing landscape so we’ve come up with some top tips to help you procure the right agency for the job.

1. Let them in

Most agencies worth their salt want to solve your big challenge – the one that keeps you up at night. Agencies don’t want to ‘build a website’. They want to help your business grow. So don’t just give them a list of deliverables, give them a narrative and the data to back it up. For example: “This year we lost market share to X because of Y. As a result we’re looking to improve our Z strategy and we think you could help”. This leaves room for the agency to take ownership of the challenge and bring the outside world in. It allows them to frame the opportunity in a way to leverage their specialisms – giving you a richer response to the brief.

2. Go in armed with insight

The agency world is changing. We’re in a post-globalisation boom that caused a huge amount of expansion and networkification (it really is a word!) in the marketing services industry. There’s a huge democratisation of skills going on and technology is changing the rules on a daily basis. Understanding a little about what’s going on will help you leverage your budget more effectively, but more importantly, help you tap into the right agency for your specific needs. Speak to peers in different categories about their challenges and seek impartial advice. And please, don’t bother going to LinkedIn for an agency recommendation as all you’ll get is a lesson in nepotism.

3. Drop the suspicion

A friend of mine once likened agencies to labradors (he’s been in adland for many years running creative shops, which might excuse the analogy…). He explained, “they genuinely want to please and do a good job”. This may seem obvious, verging on obtuse however as a witness of hundreds of pitches, I can confirm that there seems to be a growing scepticism when it comes to agencies – particularly in those early stage meetings. Treat your first meeting with the agency like a first date – both parties should act as if this could be the beginning of something special. What could be the beginning of a long-term relationship and both should be trying to impress. The best work comes from the strongest relationships because they know how to handle the inevitable conflict that occurs when deciding on a strategic direction. Ask Audi and BBH, ask Leo Burnett and McDonalds, ask Mars and BBDO.

4. Inform = good, inspire = better

While the technical elements of your brief are fundamental to finding the right partner and require rigorous business case planning, you can go further. Go beyond delivering the brief – inspire them. Every agency exec in a new business meeting will make you think they’re excited about your business but more often than not, they’re not the practitioners who will be working on your account . The aim is to get the agency talking about your brief before it’s even landed on their desk. Last year I was working with a global B2B tech business who provide hardware to corner shops and gambling operators. Not exactly a Nike ad campaign! They were looking for a brand strategy agency but understood that the key was to let them into the business. So they booked a table at a small, unsuspecting, underground cafe on Brick Lane that was part of their charitable project to supply tech to small businesses. There was no explanation why they chose that place until the meeting began and they took them through an impassioned briefing session to explain why small businesses are important to the culture of their business. This included a 10 minute key note from the owner of the cafe who explained how influential the company was in her success. 4 of the 6 holding companies were in the room that day. Each of them were gobsmacked by how personal the pitch then felt in that little, East London, subterranean cafe.

5. Cash

Why are we so British when it comes to money? Why do we insist on verbal gymnastics when asked about budget? Define an approximate budget before engaging an agency. If you can’t get to a ballpark figure, it indicates to the agency that you haven’t done the “rigorous business case planning” (see tip 4) thats essential to any successful project. It doesn’t need to be set in stone. Ballparks are important – they help a business assess what kind of solution will work best for you – not them. It doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the B team, so just be honest and speak to your finance team before picking up the phone to a supplier.

These discipline-agnostic pointers have been gleaned from 15 years worth of agency-brand matchmaking. Last year alone, Ingenuity ran 147 pitches across the whole spectrum of marketing disciplines for both multinational companies and disruptive startups. Everything we do for brands comes with zero financial cost as we get remunerated by the winning agency only. This means we’re incentivised to give impartial advice but most importantly, put the best agencies forward for your business.

That was great but what next?

If you are interested in discovering the right agency for your business, please do get in touch with Dario Pagani, Brand Services Director to find out how our free agency selection service can help you.