We represent over 50 marketing agencies, operating as their outsourced agency new business sales team.  We talk with agencies every day as part of our effort to get to know more top tier agencies throughout the country.

I often tell agencies that they all kind of do the same thing.  I mean no offense by it.

They all develop creative.

They all plan and buy media.

They all produce content.

Of course, some do it a lot better than others…but there are a lot that do a great job doing what they do.

I also tell agencies that the things that really set one agency apart from another is the depth of thinking, effectiveness of their strategy, their engagement with their client’s business, and the degree to which they can add value to their client’s team.

Creative is important.  Negotiating good deals is important.  But finding a great business partner is critical to a successful agency-client relationship.

Of course, finding a great agency starts with analyzing all the things that represent the fundamentals: size, experience, expertise, etc.

But going beyond these fundamentals to understand what kind of business partner your new agency might be, is critical to finding the right firm.

Ways you can assess this are:

  • Ask them to describe situations similar to yours. Examine the degree to which strategy played a role and examine the degree to which the agency embraced the client’s business to move it ahead.
  • Ask them to think about the future of marketing and advertising and find out to what degree they are prepared to deal with these changes and how they would help your firm navigate them.
  • And ask them why they are a good fit for your firm. This simple question can be loaded with lots of powerful insight into how much they are really thinking about you and your business versus the very superficial things the agency does and possesses.

Once you are able to identify agencies with the right sets of skills and experiences and business acumen, you can then try and determine the degree to which your business will fit nicely within their firm.

If you are too small a potential client for your new agency, you may never get the attention you deserve.  And think about whether you are just a road to a better opportunity for your new agency – whereby once they get you on board, are they going to start looking for the better opportunity just down the road?

And find out who is going to be your day-to-day contact.  Have they worked in your space?  How long have they been at the agency?  How many accounts do they represent?

Bottom line…dig a little deeper.

Don’t get enamored with a heart-tugging campaign.  There are a lot of things that sit underneath that campaign that can make a relationship great…or make it fail.

Take your time, ask the right questions, and look under the hood to find out if the agencies you’re evaluating really have what it takes to build a lasting and productive relationship with you and your business.

If this sounds a bit daunting, drop me a line.  Happy to offer counsel – or – help out.  I can be reached at msneider@rswagencysearch.com.


Mark is a 30-year veteran of the consumer packaged goods, advertising, and marketing service industry. Mark started his career at DDB Needham in Chicago prior to earning his MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Business School at Northwestern where he majored in Marketing and Economics. Prior to starting RSW/US in 2005, Mark was General Manager for AcuPOLL, a global research consultancy. Sneider worked in Marketing for S.C. Johnson and KAO Brands. Sneider has been invited to speak at numerous Agency events and network conferences domestically and internationally including the 4A’s, Magnet, NAMA, TAAN, and MCAN. Sneider has been featured in prominent industry publications including Adweek, Media Post, e-Marketer, and Forbes. When not working (which often seems like not often), Mark likes to run miles, go to church, and just chill with a hard copy issue of Fast Company.