Looking for a new agency? Then don’t ask these questions.

If you’ve ever participated in an agency search, you can bet your bottom dollar you’re going to be asked some predictable questions. And if you’re a marketing or procurement team looking for a new agency, you’ve likely got a list of questions ready to go.

But are all your questions really necessary? And do you honestly need the answers to help you find an agency that’s going to be right for your business?

Well let’s not beat about the bush here – the answer is almost certainly no – because RFP documents frequently appear to be issued with superfluous and irrelevant questions. And here are a few examples of those:

Do you have a process?

We’ve heard both ‘do you have a process...” and “what is your process…?” In either case, both are somewhat irrelevant because the answer to ‘do you have…’ is undoubtedly yes. And I defy any marketer to look me in the eye and tell me they’re interested in someone else’s process chart!

Nobody’s interested.

What people are interested in is the specific part of the process that may not be working for them currently. So why not ask that question – i.e. ‘can you help us understand your Quality Assurance (or whatever it may be) within your process to ensure we get the highest quality work…’? Wouldn’t that be more helpful instead of pages of process charts that nobody’s going to read?

What’s your hourly rate?

Here’s another particularly unhelpful question because, asked in isolation the answer has little relevance. It’s liking asking what you’d like for dinner – answer: food. Hourly rates quoted in isolation, without a scope of work and the amount effort required to deliver on that scope are just a number. Either an hour rate of $X x Y number hours, or a total fee is needed to complete the equation. So if you’re worried about hourly rates, you need to provide a detailed view of your ask for a meaningful answer.

How can you make our campaign go viral?

While you may receive any number of creative answers to this question, the true answer is nobody can make your campaign idea go viral. Campaigns typically go viral because the client and agency deeply understand their audience and have captured their message in a unique and meaningful way that then triggers an emotional response. So a better question is to ask would be how will you develop the deepest possible understanding of your audience and marry that with a media solution to reach them?

How many awards have you won?

Answer: 100. Is that the right answer? Of course not, because it’s out of context and doesn’t break out what awards were won and for which campaigns. My colleague Darren Woolley at TrinityP3 in Australia wrote a powerful piece on this ‘cutting through the creative wank of creative awards‘ which makes for an interesting read on how to better ask the awards question. But if you want to short-cut that, what about asking, ‘what are the top five awards you’re most proud of and why?‘ which would give you a sense of what the agency values as success, whether results are tied to it and how relevant the awards are to your business.

If your agency were an animal what animal would it be?

I’ve no idea. And let’s be honest – it doesn’t matter because it’s a totally daft question (but yes, we’ve seen it asked!) So if you’re considering asking something like that – please don’t.

These are just some examples of questions asked in an agency search that need context in order to be relevant and for agencies to be able to answer thoughtfully. Other questions you may want to avoid include answers to questions that could be easily found with a little homework such as, do you have French capabilities, or do you have offices in the US, or are you part of a larger holding company?

The bottom line here is that unless you want to read pages and pages of information from agencies who have had to sweat for days and weeks on their submissions, ask fewer but more relevant questions. Restrict answers to a defined number of pages and help set yourself, and your agencies up for a more meaningful conversation about your business.


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

Photo: Marco Verch Professional 

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