4 minute read

Have you reached the point of needing to hire an agency? Or, perhaps you already have one, but feel the need to make a change? What do you do now? Conventional thinking might suggest an RFP is the right way to go to find a new agency partner. That’s one way, but not the only way, and it might not reveal what you hope or need, relative to potential partners.

For many agencies, RFPs are low on the list of things they enjoy doing. Thus, many who may be great partners could choose to opt-out because of the massive amount of work required to respond, in many cases. And, even for those who choose to participate, you still may not get the important personal aspects out of a written response or even a pitch presentation.

Here are five questions an RFP response likely won’t answer:

  1. Who will you be working with? – We understand. You asked for bios of the people who will be working on your account. But from an agency standpoint, it’s hard to truly know. So much of the decision will come down to timing of the contract, team workload and potential evolution of the assignment (sometimes not entirely clear in the RFP). Plus, agencies tend to stack their RFP team rosters with people they perceive will be impressive to the client. For example, the agency CEO likely won’t be working on your account, yet many agencies feel obligated to include him/her.
  2. Will you enjoy working with them? – An agency/client relationship is just that…a relationship. So much of what makes a good one is chemistry. Depending on the scope of your assignment, you’ll likely be communicating with your agency multiple times per day/week. Will you dread the next meeting or Zoom call with them?
  3. Can they solve your unique challenges? – Chances are you asked for case studies in your RFP, but every client situation is unique. Just because the agency has successfully rebranded another bank, it doesn’t mean they can meet your bank’s needs. And, were the people who rebranded that bank even part of the team who would handle your assignment?
  4. What’s the price of your second assignment? – Some agencies will bend over backward to win your initial assignment, even going so far as to deeply discount their fees. The theory is that you’ll be in too deep or too committed to the relationship to hold power in negotiating your next agreement. Is one agency’s fee drastically lower than everyone else’s? Does the price sound too good to be true? It probably is.
  5. Are they leaders or order takers? – One of the main reasons to hire an agency is for strategic guidance. Yet, some agencies aren’t very good at it, as indicated from feedback from our clients who tried other agencies first. Having an agency shouldn’t feel like a chore where you’re having to guide them every step of the way. A good agency should be bringing you new ideas and suggestions for potential solutions and paths forward.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, if I don’t go the RFP route, what are my other options? Here are a few:

  1. Give them a small project – See how they execute…for you. Of, course, they should be paid a little for it, but there’s nothing wrong with a limited “try before you truly commit” approach.
  2. Spend time getting to know the people you’d be working with – Get outside of the work assignment and spend time with them. Kind of like dating, if you’d like a repeat, it’s probably a good sign.
  3. Talk with a few existing clients who they’ve helped in similar ways – You may have asked for references in the RFP, but chances are there are more relevant people for you to talk with. Agencies try to go for recognizable names as references and perhaps not those who can speak to working in the trenches with the agency.

What other ways have you found that will help determine whether an agency is a good fit for your needs? I’d love to hear them. I can be reached at adam.hoover@borshoff.biz.