We’re a curious bunch. So naturally, we ask a lot of questions. But there’s one that keeps coming up over and over again: How do clients select which agencies to include in an account review?

Obviously, different brands will have different approaches. But what’s going through a brand team’s head as they’re putting together their shortlist?

A friend of the agency, Ken Knesel, was kind enough to shine some light on what he thinks brands should consider as they decide which agencies to talk to. Ken was a procurement executive for one of the world’s largest breweries, responsible for vetting every agency invited to work for any of their cherished brands — from small to big to really big. So yeah, he knows a thing or two about this.

1. What kind of agency is across the table from you?

In Ken’s words, “I want to know what the agency’s business ambitions and goals are, and what type of agency they want to be. I want to know about their ownership structure; are they part of a conglomerate or are they a boutique agency?”
Understanding what the agency is all about can help determine if your brand is going to fit well with them — and that both your overall visions are in alignment.

Ask yourself: What is their investment coming into the partnership? Are they going to have the kind of software and research capabilities to make this partnership work? Is this agency trying to do more than they can handle?

Hearing an agency say they excel at anything and everything you could ever need is a sign they might be overpromising or inexperienced.

2. What is the IP ownership structure?

Is the agency going to take the work they create for you and then hand it off to another client?

Make sure that everyone on the brand and agency side is very clear on where that IP ownership stands before and after the relationship. If you don’t ask, it can be a selling point for an agency to state that all of the created work will stay with the brand including all of the WIP or outcomes that might not have been used.

While rare, Ken notes there are some shops that will insist that all unused ideas are their property.

Two brewery workers in a brewery examining their beer

3. Is your team consistent?

It’s important from a brand side to work with an agency that isn’t turning over their staff every six weeks. Hearing from an agency that their retention rate is high, and the team that they put around you is going to stay consistent can assuage many client fears.

That said, some turnover is normal in the advertising industry. So a question you may want to ask is how they’re attracting talent, retaining the best talent, and safeguarding against the turnover that comes as part of agency life.

According to Ken, a brand should also ask who will actually staff the account. Get to know their names and work styles. Are the senior people in the room going to be the ones who are working on the business back at the office?

The agency should also be clear (and reasonable) about how much time executive staff will be working on the account. Promising constant involvement from members of the C-suite can be costly and a potential red flag.

4. Do they tout a “one size fits all” approach?

Avoid agencies that claim their singular approach works across all brands or even industries. As Ken states, “Tell me how you’re going to develop a plan for my specific brand situation and my unique audience.”

Knowing the industry is one thing. But assuming your solution is going to work for everybody is another red flag. While industry experience is one way to know the agency has solved similar problems before, each brand is different — and pitching one solution for every problem regardless of specifics should be a non-starter.

An agency’s response to the brand can’t be general. It has to be specific. Every brand is different, so make sure their response or pitch is specific to your brand’s problem.

Coming in with an unstructured solution or becoming too focused on the way that the agency operates as opposed to solving something specific for the brand is an issue. A brand should be seeking specifics on how you’re going to approach the campaigns and the brand’s business issues.

Wanna know more?

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