Getting the chemistry right. What to ask in a pitch.

During most agency pitches, considerable emphasis is typically placed on the functional capabilities of the agencies you’re evaluating:  Size, scope, and capabilities, balanced against strategic and / or creative proof points – all weighed against an acceptable financial model.

But just like any interview process, marketers need to dig deeper to find out if the chemistry between prospective agency(s) and their marketing teams is strong enough to stand the test of time. An agency that looks good on paper or appears to tick all the proverbial boxes, may end up being a disaster if client facing agency resources and marketing teams don’t like each other.

Enter the chemistry conundrum.  How can you find out if your respective teams will work well together?

While there are any number of ways to structure chemistry sessions and get at those answers – the most insightful are those that encourage a two-way dialogue between all participants. A moderator or independent observer can help steer the conversation, encourage active participation or simply provide an objective viewpoint afterwards.

Whether you’re conducting formal chemistry sessions or just asking questions throughout your search process, here are ten questions that can help break the ice and get at whether some teams might work better than others:

If you’d just offered us a job why should we work for you?

This is a great question because it helps the agency frame up and define what’s really important to them as individuals and as an agency and get at their cultural philosophies.

How do you manage difficult clients?

Or, if you prefer – ‘give us an example of your toughest client situation and how you dealt with it…‘ However you ask the question, the goal here is to understand what the team views as ‘difficult’ and their constructive approach to resolving whatever the challenge was.

How do you manage staff turnover?

One of the most common complaints from marketers today is around staff turnover on their businesses, and it’s one of the toughest challenges agencies are trying to manage – particularly in media and digital where the best resources are in high demand.

How do you work with each other?

The goal of this question is to see whether teams point to, or rely on process or people and conversations when it comes to collaboration and working well as a team.

Who do you follow?

Or perhaps which blogs do you read?  These are opportunities to understand how engaged your teams are in the broader aspects of the industry and whether there are intersections of interest between your respective resources.

What do you really like about your agency?

The answers to this question help you define the culture of the agency and what inspires people to work (and stay) there. If you want to flip the question – ask what people don’t like – or perhaps the one thing they could change.

How are you preparing for the future?

This is perhaps the most powerful question you can ask as it encourages agency management to share what they’re doing for their people, and it encourages individuals to share how they plan to grow.

What soft skills do you value as an agency?

I’ve written before on how important soft skills are in agency relationships,  and the answers can be an insightful window into what management skills your agency team will be bringing to the table.

What was your best day at this agency?

Defining their best day helps you understand what success and / or job satisfaction looks like for the team.  Could this kind of best day be replicated working on your business?

Ask us

As with every relationship, things work best when there’s a two-way dialogue – so encourage the team to ask questions of you – see what questions come up and how your team responds.  The questions and answers might surprise you.

Whether you ask some, all or none of these questions, chemistry sessions are no more complicated than being able to answer:

Do we like them?

Do they like us?

Do they like each other?

Do they like their company?

And all this begs the question – do you like your agency?  And does your agency like you?  What questions would help you better understand each other?


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

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