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Thought Leadership

What to look for in an agency partner.

Marketing agency in New York and baltimore.

This piece was penned by co-founder, Jonathan Hanson, for our quarterly newsletter.

I was recently engaged after vowing to never get married. As I happily eat every word I’ve said disavowing the practice, I’ve been reflecting back on both romantic and professional relationships. I’ve gotten a lot wrong, like saying “never”, or allowing ego to overshadow what’s really going on, or creating unreasonable expectations instead of being upfront about our mutual aspirations. 

What I have gotten right is finding friends, a partner and colleagues who in their own individual ways are my superpower. 

What does this have to do with marketing? In recent weeks I’ve read multiple posts online from brand leaders who are searching for an agency partner, but don’t know where to start. Spoiler alert, great agency relationships are founded on one thing: trust. The agency/client relationship can not only be a creative superpower but a superpower that ignites personal growth. Harnessing it requires trust, which not to digress, is most of what marketing is all about… getting people to trust your brand. 

So, what should you consider when vetting potential agencies? 

Are they fit for the task at hand?

This sounds obvious, but there’s more to it than category experience or the question every agency hates, “have you done this before?” Don’t start there. If you need a photocopy machine, Best Buy has tons. Remember, this is about your unique brand, and the unique approach an agency brings to your business problem. The service the agency is going to provide influences how you two communicate and interact. For example, if the work is going to require a high degree of importance, complexity and frequency, the relationship will require a different level of collaboration than if the work is highly mechanical. Following the same example, a rebrand will happen less frequently than media monitoring. How complex the service is will affect the interaction and we recommend stating upfront what the expectations are around interactions like communication, team dynamic, the feedback process and briefing process in ensuring the agency can provide what is needed to be successful with the task at hand. 

How are you evaluating potential partners? 

Are you evaluating them on their previous client work, their agency ethos or their ESG stance? Being clear with a potential agency partner on what you are evaluating them on, gives them a chance to prepare properly so you can have an accurate evaluation. Since values and mission are the guiding light of your brand and work, we recommend that your mission and values be aligned with your agency’s.

Are expectations clear?

It is very important that clients articulate objectives and expectations clearly. According to a survey ANA conducted, clients and agencies are not in agreement on whether clients provide clear assignment briefings. Only 27% of agencies believe clients do a good job, while 0% strongly agree they do a good job. But, 58% of clients think they do a good job briefing a marketing agency. This works both ways. Agency leaders who set expectations and are transparent about agency weaknesses and or potential red flags around client goals early on will create better client experiences and trust.

Are they the right size marketing agency?

Agency size can influence the relationship in different ways. A small agency may have other strengths like expertise, incredible talent, flexible operations or personal attention but can they staff the task at hand. In other words, different sizes in clients as well as agencies have both advantages and drawbacks, and influence the relationship in different ways..

What is their communication style? 

During the vetting process, it’s a good time to understand how they structure communications, project management and working styles. If you want to be involved in the process, you’ll want to be sure that your marketing agency partner doesn’t go into a hole for a couple weeks to work, but is open to a transparent working relationship. Strong feedback is crucial to the creative process so it’s imperative that this is addressed early on. Speaking from experience, Unconquered uses Asana for project management and Slack for direct communication with account leads and provides best practices for giving feedback. 

What kind of relationship are you looking for? 

Most agency websites say they are collaborative, which is the most ideal type of agency client relationship. But is that really how they operate? Collaboration occurs when both parties share a common desire to create great work and trust each other. But sometimes trust isn’t the connective tissue and the relationship starts as competitive where each party is looking out for their own best interest. Or one party has a dominant position over the other where the other party is dependent on their decisions instead of working together to get to a solution like in a collaborative relationship.

Finding the right marketing agency is vital for success. If you can’t find one at first, don’t go into thirst trap mode and drop an RFP, you’re better than that. Search consultants can help but we recommend using your team’s network for recommendations first, while dedicating someone on your team to lead the search. 

Create and conquer, 


P.S. I’m available for a meet and greet, get in touch to set up a time.