Hiring Your First Creative Agency? Here's What to Look For

Laurie Offer
December 26, 2023

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Are you a brand looking to appoint your first agency? All too often brands like yours are left in the dark about what to expect from working with an agency for the first time. Writing exclusively for THE GOODS, Growth Director of Thirst Craft, Laurie Offer advises brands on what to look for from an agency partner and the secret to hitting it off.

If you're working client-side and are on the hunt for a new agency partner but unsure where to start and what to expect from the early stages in the process, this article is for you.

GLASGOW - As a new business expert working agency-side, I’ve had lots of conversations with potential clients – I’m a naturally inquisitive, open and honest person and love unpacking brand and business challenges, exploring client aspirations and ambitions to find solutions. I understand how critical it is to be authentic, build rapport, use straightforward language and be transparent to get the most value from new business meetings.

So here are my top tips for clients; what you should look for (and look out for) and how you can navigate the start of your journey by understanding what good looks like from potential agency partners.

Preparation

First things first. It sounds obvious but do your research. Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations, have a look through the trade press, check out agency websites and social feeds to get a feel for an agency and its culture. See if their values align with your brand and business. Check that they offer what you are looking for. Be it PR, comms, digital, creative, brand identity, innovation, experiential or an integrated approach.

Once you’ve created your longlist (I’d suggest no more than six agencies to begin, with a view to creating a shortlist of three to contact), you can start arranging introductory meetings with your shortlisted agencies. It’s sensible at this stage to draft a criteria checklist to include your absolute must-haves. You can refer to this when you reach the point where you are ready to decide which agency to move forward with. On that point, how will you select an agency – will it be based on the meeting alone? A proposal and/or pitch?

If you’re at the stage where you’re able to, write a brief and be as detailed and thorough as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t have a confidentiality agreement prepared – most agencies will have a template that can be amended for your business that they will be happy to sign ahead of any conversations.

What a great first meeting looks like

Much like how you have taken the time to do your research into the agencies you have selected, the agencies you are speaking to should also have done their research into your brand, or at the very least, the category you sit in. They should have a firm grasp of your competitive set. Poor preparation before a new business call smacks of laziness and provides a real insight into how your project could turn out.

Their focus should be on you, learning as much as they can about your goals and demonstrating their knowledge, experience and credibility in your space. If the agency kicks the meeting off by asking questions to find out what keeps you awake at night, you know you’re onto a good thing.

The deeper the questions they ask, the more they are trying to understand as much as they can about your specific context and situation. Ultimately, they should be wanting to build trust and provide a sense of reassurance, particularly if this is the first time you are embarking on finding an agency partner.

Don’t be put off if the agency asks about budget. This is a very normal and really important question to raise at the early stages in the process to avoid getting too far down the line and then realising that you are misaligned on financial investment. Being as transparent as possible in these early stages really helps as the relationship develops.

Finally, a note on chemistry. You will be able to get a sense from the first meeting if you can see yourself working with the person/people you have met. Feeling like you have been listened to and understood goes a long way and is an excellent indicator of future success.

What next?

Ideally, you will want to get a sense of timings, the stages of work involved and the associated costs. The agency should have all the information they need from the first meeting to put pen to paper and write a proposal. This could be a really simple word document or a fully fleshed-out proposal – it all depends on what you have agreed and what your expectations are.

Don’t be surprised if you receive a quick check-in from an agency before they present the final proposal. This shows their desire to ensure they’ve covered everything off, their approach aligns with yours and to find out if anything has changed since the first meeting. Remember, this is a two-way conversation – you’re both working out if you are the right fit for each other.

Ultimately, have fun and enjoy the process. If you are at the stage where you are serious about investing in the long-term growth of your brand, then this is a really exciting time for you and your business.

Laurie Offer
Contributor