There are right and wrong reasons to change agencies and critical things to look for… This here is your checklist

In any partnership, one party will get on the nerves of the other – it’s really just a sign of how close you are. In today’s flighty world where choice is abundant, moving on when you hit a rough patch might sound tempting, but the grass isn’t always greener. A healthy agency relationship is a bit like a good marriage – hard to find if you don’t know what to look for.

To pull up stumps with your agency is a big call for two main reasons:

1) You never really know how good your new agency will be (although there are some tell-tale signs if you keep reading)

2) Even if your new agency is good, it will take some time to get them up to speed and firing on all cylinders

So the point is this, you need to do it for the right reasons, you need to know how to best prepare your organisation, and you need to know what to look for.

A couple of don’ts before I start with the dos… Don’t let your ego get ahead of you. Lots of comms managers want to change their agency as soon as they start a new job. Often it’s a power play. Sometimes it’s necessary, I’m not saying you should put up with incompetence – Lord knows I won’t! But you have to do it with a level head. My advice… give yourself six months. Any new relationship takes time to gel.

Also, don’t review agencies on price. Playing off agencies against one another to drive down the cost will only land you in a situation where you think you are getting better value on paper, but it never translates into better outcomes. Even if you are forced to get procurement involved, make sure you own the objectives and the decision. You are accountable for results at the end of the day. You aren’t likely to hear from your procurement team again.

So, what are the right reasons to change agencies?

I’ve one simple rule – if you don’t TRUST them, you can’t work with them!

It means they must:

– Make your life easier
– Help you to think differently
– Open doors to new opportunities
– Know your business and its points of difference
– Hold themselves accountable to established goals
– Be bold enough to say “no” sometimes

If they don’t, you need to look elsewhere. If they do, you must:

– Give them your time
– Encourage their creativity
– Walk through the doors they open
– Treat them as an extension of your team
– Recognise their hard word when they achieve goals
– Be faithful enough to say “yes” to their big ideas from time to time

How do you best prepare your organisation?

Firstly, you need to help the broader executive understand what the potential is. This frames the issue. Show them what is possible with ‘the right’ agency. Sell them on the vision and then involve them in the process. Ask them what they think is important. It’s not a democracy, but when you make the call, you need to have your troops behind you.

What to look out for in your new agency:

They must eat their own dog food: If they say they are specialists in social and aren’t actively blogging, what else can you believe!? I want to say each agency will have a unique value proposition, but the reality is almost all say they are a “full service agency”. And… almost all of them aren’t! It’s easy to check. Are they actively writing and being referenced? Are they on professional boards? Are they leading industry conversations? Living, breathing case studies are the best ones.

They must have solid relationships: Who are the people you need to influence? You should have an idea. Don’t just rely on your agency to tell you. They of course have a vested interest in that conversation going a certain way. If you know your market, you know where they go and what they read. Whoever is speaking at those places or writing for those titles, they are the people that should help you short-list. Agencies are only as good as the team they have.

They must get the simple things right: It’s like a resume with spelling mistakes. If they can’t get that right, why would you give them the job!? When you get to the point of short-listing and the agencies come in and pitch, you have to be hyper-critical of their presentations and their leave-behinds. Don’t let mediocrity pass go. If it’s like that at the beginning, it’ll only get worse. In communications, the devil is in the detail.

They must have a dream and a plan: A dream without a plan is a wish. If your agency doesn’t have a dream for your business and its brand, as well as a clear strategy to achieve it, you’d be better off taking your budget to the casino and putting it on red. Of course there is an investment the agency makes in understanding you well enough to bring this about, but the good ones do it because they love it. They’re the ones you want to work with!

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

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