8 Tips for Hiring a Creative Ad Agency


j6BH-453AYour creative is stale. Your ads don’t break through the clutter. They are not memorable. You waste money on paid media. The agency team that works on your business is constantly changing: a new account director every year, new creative people, new strategists and planners. It seems like once you get a new group up to speed on your account, they then depart. You feel as if new business is more important to your agency than YOUR business.

Is it any surprise that the same accounts are always in review and the same search consultants are pushing the same mediocre creative agencies? Don’t you think it’s time to fix the pitch process?

Rate of change and the speed of business are at an all-time high. More content was created in h-armstrong-roberts-hands-of-magician-performing-magic-trick-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hatthe past two years alone than in the entire history of civilization. Not just marketing content…but content content. Advertising reflects society (when it should lead it). Agencies rush for the next new bright and shiny “paradigm” (ugh…is that the worst word in the business or what?). They seem to be running away from the one thing clients value from them the most: CREATIVITY. Creative chops. Creative bones. The alchemy of taking a strategic brief and creating something mysteriously wonderful: magic. Many agencies have stopped being artists and have become scientists.

Agencies tend to over analyze what they do and what a client wants from them. Account service? Price of entry. Collaboration? Who would NOT collaborate with their client? Strategy? Ah, strategy…I love the intellectual bullies that think a brand is doomed without their insights. Regardless of the category, there is a finite set of strategies that sell anything. And clients sit around every day and kick them around:

  • More for less
  • New and improvedUnknown
  • One of a kind
  • Original, authentic
  • Better experience/service
  • Better stuff/quality
  • Selection
  • Performance
  • Aesthetics (beauty/design)
  • fill in the blank…

But, what most clients cannot do, and will always be at the mercy of creative agencies for is…creative product. If you are still reading this article, your creative product probably doesn’t meet your expectations.

So how do you go about hiring a better creative agency? Here are 8 tips:

  1. Hire a culture, not a process or person — All agency processes are basically the same and they should all be driven by the same singular goal: to get to the best creative work possible. All agencies think they have the best creative talent. But, it is the culture that must be the right fit for your brand. Do they have a mission? Do they live that mission or just talk about it? Does that mission align with your company mission?
  2. Define your company goals and communicate them clearly to prospective agencies — What is success for your company and brand? Do you have a roadmap or a plan to get there? Where does the agency fit in with that plan? Set the expectations early and monitor them often.
  3. Define your required Scope of Work — every good process has a clearly defined, surgical SOW. It is the core of any strong RFP.
  4. Conduct an RFP — Know what it is that you are looking for. Prioritize criteria. Set a process and stick to it. Be decisive in establishing criteria.3fe00259f3f1efd6fb9f0d5d3dfafa73
  5. Require a staffing model — Ask prospective agencies to explain how they specifically plan on servicing your account. Make sure you “interview” the key staffers in the RFP process. Place the most emphasis on the creative team. These are the shoemakers that will make the shoes. Make sure their shoes will attract your target’s feet.
  6. Be transparent — Don’t play games with budgets, Scope, existing research or proprietary methods. Water seeks its own level.
  7. Be inclusive — Your company has many stakeholders. Include them all. Form a “core” selection team but also include a secondary team and bring them in at various points in the review process. Seek their input. Everyone has a valid opinion.
  8. Own the decision, program it for success — Transparency and inclusion are great. But, ultimately ONE person needs to own the decision and live or die with it. Again, be decisive. Hire a consultant, or “marriage counselor” to set expectations for the first 100 days. When agency relationships go bad…they go bad fast. Get over the honeymoon in the first week, and get on to the marriage.

3 thoughts on “8 Tips for Hiring a Creative Ad Agency

  1. amaxwell888

    Thanks for your comment about how you should hire an advertising company so that they can help you strategize and be creative as you market your business. I like how you said that you should hire people who will be able to help you reach your company’s goals and come up with a successful plan for you. If someone with a business was looking into hiring an advertising company to help promote their services, I would assume that they would keep your tips in mind. http://etcadvertising.com/services/

  2. Steve Saley

    Thanks for posting your article Mike. It’s refreshing to appreciate the power of strong creative vs. templated ads. After being in the advertising industry for 40+ years, I believe it’s time for a resurgence of creativity to drive metrics instead of the other way around.


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