Selecting an agency to trust with the future of your brand is often a grueling process. Especially in circumstances where you are working with a restricted budget or under particular grant guidelines, it is essential to find the right match for your organization from the start. In this way, selecting your agency partner can feel a lot like dating. Everyone puts on their best face in the early stages, but as the relationship unfolds it can uncover some deal-breaker issues.
The most important thing to do before evaluating an agency is to outline exactly what your organization needs in a partner, and ensure that these expectations are shared and understood with any agency you are considering. Often, misalignments between client and agency are revealed early in the selection process, whether you realize it or not.
With that in mind, we’ve outlined some red flags to be aware of in evaluating a new agency relationship.
1. The agency doesn’t conduct preliminary background on your brand
While detailed research and background is often conducted during the “discovery” phase when a new agency is ramping up their work, an agency should come prepared with a high-level understanding of your organization. This includes organization history, mission, and vision to provide the agency with a foundation from which to guide discussions and gather insights into your marketing potential. Failing to do this initial preparation suggests the agency lacks the determination to win your business. Moreover, it suggests they may not place value in your organization’s work or understand your goals, which could be a precursor to additional issues as the project progresses.
2. The agency lacks passion or appreciation for your work
While this may not be true across all client types, selecting an agency that values your organization’s efforts can make the difference between the success and failure of a project. As a stakeholder within your organization, you likely live and breathe its values, goals, and accomplishments. If your agency partner does not share this passion, or at least acknowledge the importance of the work being done, then it will likely fail to capture these points in its representation of the brand. The agency must understand how you differentiate from organizations in a similar segment or working toward a related goal.
3. You narrow agencies based on industry expertise
This one’s on you, the client. Very early on in the selection process, organizations can limit themselves by only considering firms who specialize in mission-driven work. While there are certainly advantages to having experience in the mission-driven space, it’s important to evaluate agencies based on their capabilities, keeping your goals in mind while evaluating their past experience. For example, if your organization is in need of brand work to appeal to a certain target audience within your cause, it can be tempting to seek out an agency with previous work for a related cause, or one which specializes solely in mission-driven brands. In actuality, the most value lies in identifying an agency which excels at identifying and understanding different user groups. The agency then can produce tailored, relevant, and impactful work guided by user empathy. While the agency may come across as a group who understands conscious brands, working with an agency that has a sole focus could take away from the individuality of the brand you are looking to create.
4. The agency takes a cookie cutter approach to design
No two brands are alike. While mission-driven organizations may share a common cause or target an overlapping audience, there is little benefit from mimicking an existing organization. Reviewing an agency’s case studies from past projects can lend insight into project strategy and approach, but if they’re applying a templated approach for design with no customization across clients, that suggests this firm is not invested in your organization. It’s important to know they are entering new engagements with a fresh set of eyes, so to speak. No two organizations, business models, campaigns, or target audiences are alike.
5. The agency doesn’t respect budget
Mission-driven organizations are often limited by restricted budgets. You should see your agency partner as a resource to help guide you and determine what work is essential to accomplish your goals. They may recommend an approach or deliverable that you haven’t thought of executing. This shows that they are approaching the project as an extension of your team, which is an invaluable quality in an agency. That said, a good agency will also respect your budget limitations, and not recommend additional work or budget that is not actually essential to delivering a successful solution.
6. The agency doesn’t provide a primary contact
Having a project manager who owns your project is essential to a smooth design process. Balancing multiple contacts within an agency, as well as within your organization, can be tedious and lead to inconsistencies as well as miscommunications. It’s key for a firm to outline early on that you will have a single primary contact who acts as your liaison, managing communications internally as well as externally to ensure organization and efficiency. While your project manager will be your main contact, a good agency partner will ensure you still have access to the lead creative and other people working your account through regular meetings and accessibility. A project manager simply guarantees a seamless flow of the project as well as communication.
Avoid troubled relationships before you get in deep
Selecting the right creative agency can be a convoluted process for mission-driven organizations. Being mindful of these red flags can help to eliminate troublesome agency relationships early on rather than discovering down the road that the partnership was never meant to be.