The ChallengeWhile there’s no question that finding a good set of marketing agencies to review is no easy task, one of the toughest parts of managing a search on your own is effectively defining what “The Challenge Document” is going to say.

By “Challenge Document”, I mean the document that defines what it is you want the finalist group of agencies to come in and present to you.

You are making one of the bigger decisions of your marketing career and the last thing you want to do is pick the wrong firm.  Making certain that you’ve thought through the specifics of what you want the agencies to tell you when they stand in front of you during the final pitch is key.

Here are 4 things you should include to make them work as productively as possible for you.
  1. Ask the agencies to briefly recap their capabilities with specific focus on the areas you’re most interested in.  You don’t need to get into too much detail here as you’ve (presumably) already gathered up all this information in the RFI response and have pulled in any additional insight in any pre-final pitch conversations with the agencies.
  2. Ask the agencies to walk you through one case study that most specifically aligns with the business challenges you have defined as most important to you.  What you want to look for here is “relevancy”.  Are they presenting a case study for a brand 10x the size of yours?  Do they connect the problems that their client faced directly to the challenges you’re facing on your business?  Do they showcase results?  All of these things are important.  Don’t get overly impressed by the brand they are presenting or the results – if none of it aligns with your business.
  3. Ask the agencies to introduce you to the team that will work on your business if they win the business…then watch.  Does the entire team participate?  Do they do it in an organized fashion?  How relevant are their backgrounds to your business?  Is there someone who will lead the strategic management of the account?  If they don’t seem to be well orchestrated and few of them are participating and there doesn’t seem to be a strategic lead, it might suggest that this isn’t the best team for the business.
  4. And finally, ask them to showcase how they would address your business challenge.  Don’t tell them they have to present creative.  Tell them to take it as far as they feel is necessary to convince you that they are the right agency for the job.  You’ll be surprised at what you see.  I’ve seen agencies win business NOT presenting creative but rather, presenting solid strategic frameworks and platforms of ideas – and not blow it out into individual campaigns.
Preparing a Challenge Document that gives you a past, present, and future look at the agency of your future is critical to a successful marketing agency search and selection process.

Keeping all the agencies on an apples-to-apples comparison will not only make your life easier when it comes time to evaluate firms, but it will also allow you to see just how well put together each agency is – which is a true reflection of how they will operate when you ultimately bring them on board.