Searching for a new agency? Look at their future – not their past

If you’ve ever bought a house, chances are that before you made the commitment to purchase, you envisioned actually living there. In doing so, you could see the potential the house had to meet your lifestyle for the next five or ten years – perhaps longer.

It’s unlikely you interviewed previous owners on their experience with the house, because their requirements and lifestyle were likely irrelevant to your purchasing decision.

You likely narrowed your criteria by making sure the house was the right size and in the right location and had various attributes that differentiated it from others.  But once those criteria were met, you envisioned the potential the house had for your own needs.

So when searching for a new agency, it’s strange that most marketers (and corresponding search processes) tend to focus on agencies’ past performance, rather than their future vision.

In other words, are previous strategies or creative ideas for other businesses (likely unrelated to yours), really the best measure of an agency’s future performance on your business?

You’ve likely selected the agencies you’re looking at based on their size, capabilities location and lack of conflicting business.  But instead of looking deep into the past to see if the agency is right for you, why not look into their future as a better measure of their ability grow your business in the future?

Here are ten future focused questions worth considering:

What’s the agency’s future vision for your business?

Even if the agency doesn’t have all the pieces to be able to answer this in entirety, it’ll help understand both how the agency thinks and get a sense of how they view your business in the future and how they can meet those needs.

What’s the agency’s view of their business?

The view of their business is an equally important measure of the future.  By understanding where they see the advertising, digital and / or media businesses are heading, you can start to build up an understanding of they’ll be thinking about adding real value to your business

Who and how are they hiring?

Understanding what positions the agency is planning to hire for also provides a good window into which areas the agency is planning to grow.  Digging deeper and looking at what qualities they really value, will also help define the kind of agency it will be – versus the kind of agency it’s been in the past.

How does the agency experiment? 

Responsible experimentation is an important ingredient in any company’s ability to grow. Hands-on learning, experimenting with solutions, approaches or technologies, are good measures of their ability to evolve as the business continues to evolve.

What’s the staffing model?

Flexible staffing models are a leading indicator of a baked-in readiness for inevitable change. Flexible staffing models also signal an ability to adapt to market conditions and your requirements as they evolve. 

What’s the agency working on?

Instead of asking what the agency has worked on in the past – try asking what they’re working on now. This isn’t about asking for trade secrets – it’s about asking other client’s real-time enthusiasm or confidence in the agency’s ability to solve problems for tomorrow and how the agency is planning to evolve for the future.

How will they solve your problems?

Again, this isn’t looking at past problems for other clients, it’s about you and your business. Defining how they propose to solve your problems will give you an idea of how they’ll go about tackling and solving future issues.

Who are the real agency thought leaders?

Aside from case studies and news releases, an agency’s social footprint is a good measure of where the real thought leadership is coming from. Look at blog or Twitter feeds and ask where current thought leadership is coming from and how that fits with the future of the agency and your business.

Who’s at the table?

Who’s doing the talking or, if it’s a written credentials assessment, what’s the focus?  Is the big picture traditional media or is it an evolving multi-channel, multi-screen experience? These answers will give you a view of what the agency views as most important and how they propose to focus on your business.

What’s the ethic and chemistry?

Perhaps the most important evaluation metric is your take on the agency’s chemistry, work ethic and fit. Take a walk round the agency and look at how groups are set up and positioned for idea exchange and collaboration – it’s these teams and this environment that’ll be used on your business if you choose them.

So, what’s a better approach in searching for a new agency? Looking in the rear view mirror at what an agency has done in the past?  Or taking a peek into the future to unlock future problems and deliver future results?


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: Brian Snelson
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