I often tell our advertising agency clients that “all you guys do the same “$#@!*”.  I then go on to say…at the end of the day, what really matters is the thinking and ideas and strategy and planning that goes into a relationship that is going to help your marketing clients improve their business.  Don’t get me wrong, creative IS important, but it’s what goes into it that matters most.

It’s true.  Without smart, strategic people working in the agency that represents you, the rest simply doesn’t matter.  While they might come to the table with some “slap ya’ upside your head” creative today, eventually it will wear thin – or wear out.  It’s like a new business director coming into an agency selling his rolodex file.  Eventually he’ll wear them out or run out – then what?

Same holds true when you’re in an agency search.  While the creative ideas are fine and good and certainly important, knowing how they got there and how they’re thinking about your business is more important when evaluating an agency for a marketing client.

So what to do?  How do you sort it all out (particularly early on) when you’re evaluating firms.

I believe in using the RFI for more than just information gathering (from a facts about the agency standpoint), and using it to “test” the agency with challenging situations (how would they address business challenge xyz), and having them provide examples of work (and explaining the background and thinking behind the work) that align with the challenges you ultimately will put in front of them.

It will mean extra work for you upfront, but in the end, you’ll end up with better, smarter, creative shops that can stick around a long time beyond that initial beautiful campaign.