The last thing you want when you bring an agency on board is to have them hunting and pecking for new business opportunities within your four walls – and losing sight of the reason why they were first brought in to help out.

I had a conversation yesterday with a marketer who has a solid relationship on the traditional side of her business and is now looking for a strong digital partner.

In bringing on this new agency, she wanted to avoid hiring a digital agency that was also heavily involved in traditional media – as she feared they would try and “creep” over into the traditional side of her business and make a mess out of her already existing (and strong) traditional agency relationship.

How to avoid the “creeper agency”?

  1. Make it clear upfront.  If there is an opportunity for an agency to pick up business beyond the scope of the search, spell it out.  If there isn’t, you need to also spell it out upfront.  We managed a search for Psion and they very clearly spelled out to the agencies involved that there might be an opportunity for other work (beyond the scope of the search) – but it would be on their timetable and not on the agency’s timeline.  They also made it clear that in order for this other piece of business to become a reality, the agency had to prove themselves out in the first few assignments – which Moveo (the winning agency) did and they now have more of the business that Psion’s old agency once had;
  2. Find an agency with a specialty.  In the case of the client mentioned at the outset of this post, she is trying to avoid any chance of “creep” by looking at digital-only firms.  So one approach is to have agencies on board that focus on very specific areas of expertise – thus lessening the chances of agency “creep”.  One way you can get a good sense of how specialized an agency truly is, is by asking the right questions upfront -in the RFI (e.g. asking % of work in different types of media, asking for case studies that showcase work in specific areas) – and probing throughout the review process (e.g. Chemistry Q&A calls, follow-up questioning).  There are ways of directly and indirectly finding the answers you need.  Just don’t be afraid to ask.  You’re entitled to the answers;
  3. Establish a contractual relationship with the agency so it is crystal clear relative to what the assignment is and what boundaries the agency can/can’t work under.

Central to all of this is communication.  If you talk to the agency upfront and let them know what you expect and clearly define it for them, you shouldn’t have an issue.  If you get the slightest sense that your agency is veering off course and creeping in directions you don’t want them to move – speak up.  If you get push-back or you get the sense that the enthusiasm or service levels on the account start suffering as a result – time to look for a new best friend.

If you need any counsel or help in assessing agencies, feel free to reach out.  Happy to provide some objective perspective for you.