Choosing the right digital agency is a complicated process, but one that needs careful attention if you're going to find the right partner. Here's what we'd recommend to help you get there.
I’ve watched many organizations and businesses go through a selection process for a digital agency, often because Fastspot is one of the agencies being considered. I’ve learned a lot from how these processes are managed. There's nothing you can do to ensure a perfect match, but here are some simple observations from the perspective of someone on our side of the table.
1) You should absolutely love the work that an agency has done in the recent past.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be able to milk something different out of a cow, and don’t think the agency will appreciate your attempts at heavy handed art direction. If you love the work that exists, you can play the role of inspirational muse, informed expert, and patient guide, resting easy in the knowledge that the same team that created the work you love is now working with your team to create something special.
2) Ask for a one-on-one with your hypothetical project manager.
A project manager is the gateway between your team and the agency team, and if he or she is wonderful, so goes the project. Your PM should be detail-oriented to a fault, know when to include others in conversations, never shy away from tough conversations, and be your weekly correspondent for the duration of the project. You should like this person, be willing to give your trust as its earned, and be willing to work as hard as they will to ensure a great outcome.
3) Select a firm that rounds out the skills you have in house, versus replicating them.
If you have a strong UX person on your team, why not assume more of the work when it comes to the IA and wireframes, and ask that the agency put more into design time as a balance? Any reasonable agency will want to ensure that methodologies and expectations are in alignment, but once everyone’s on the same page, this is a great way to maximize the relationship and ensure your internal team feels involved and valuable.
4) Ask your potential partners what they see as the hardest part of the project, and what part of the project will put the most burden on your internal team.
This will let you know if they’re being realistic about upcoming challenges, and that they're able to help manage your teams’ workflow and expectations. A firm that anticipates challenges will build time for them into the schedule and be ready to help your people get up and running when it’s most critical for the project.
5) Talk to those references, and have good questions prepared ahead of time!
I’d also suggest that you request a reference for specific projects you’re particularly interested in, if it wasn’t offered initially. You should also ask that the agency help arrange these calls. The reason to ask for this help? First, it ensures you connect with references who can often be hard to pin down. Second, it gives you an idea of the project management style and responsiveness of the firm you're considering. If they aren’t impressing you at this stage, they're unlikely to improve once you hire them.
6) Schedule in person meetings with a few of your favorite firms, again, ideally meeting with not just sales and new business folks, but with the people who would be on your team.
When you have your in-house final meetings, think about scheduling a lunch where you can have your team and the agency team engage in less formal conversation and have some break-out sessions. This is an added method to gauge culture and fit.
7) Don’t burn the bridge with your second choice until you get a look at the contracts.
It’s not unheard of for things to go south during the contract phase. You’ll want your second choice to be available if you need to make a change due to contract issues.
8) When your team is deciding on the finalist, keep tabs on the things that stood out to you and your stakeholders about the agency, and share that info with them once the contract is in place.
It’s extremely helpful for the winning team to know why you selected them, and it ensures they will work extra hard to deliver on the things that made them stand out to you. Similarly, it’s nice to let the runners up know why they weren’t selected, even though this can be hard news to deliver. Trust me when I tell you, after exerting the effort we do when we're going after a project, the best thing that can happen from a loss is to get some good constructive feedback.
That’s what I’ve got for you! If you have suggestions to add to this list, please chime in. I’ve been part of hundreds if not thousands of selection processes — some great, some horrible, and all different. There are lots of different ways to do this. To me, these are the ones that most often lead to strong partnerships and great results.
Smart RFP Strategy for Choosing a Creative Agency
Choosing the right partner is the first step on the road to a successful project. This white paper covers best practices, starting with the initial information gathering stage and ending with the selection of the agency who can get the job done.