‘What are some unexpected client issues that you’ve faced?’
Ask the agency to tell you about a previous or existing client that didn’t go as expected and how they overcame challenges and issues. This will indicate what level of honesty and transparency you can expect, as well as where there may be areas of disconnect in the future, and illustrate the team’s strength in pivoting with your business strategy if needed.
‘What do you know about my business, my industry and my target?’
This is the key question to ask. If agencies do their homework, they should know as much, if not more, than the business they are exploring as a potential client. We do an extensive diagnostic on potential clients’ industry segment, the technology advances, the interests of their potential targets and their competitive set.
‘What expectations do we have for each other?’
It’s important that both client and agency are on the same page when it comes to expectations. Does the client expect campaign metrics daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? How agile is the agency partner in pivoting the messaging or delivery schedule? A sustained and successful client relationship is ever-evolving and is based on mutual understanding of the client’s expectations and goals.
How will you address our specific needs and communicate results?’
We live at a time of rapidly changing approaches to communications. Many agencies—and clients—still measure success on the basis of outdated models. The most important question to ask at the outset of any engagement has two parts: How can your agency deliver the specific impact that my organization is seeking, and how will we monitor and measure our success together?
‘How does what you do mesh with our specific goals?’
This is a great way to see how invested the agency is in helping your particular company, or whether they are just giving you generic lines that they tell everyone. If you are working with an agency, you want them to understand your business inside and out. By finding out beforehand how they plan to help meet your goals, you can save yourself a lot of trouble down the road.
‘What are your agency’s core values?’
A company’s values are its driving principles. Start there. If values are not aligned, then the match won’t work as well. For example, adaptability is a core value of Alter Agents. If a potential client is rigidly adhered to prior ways of doing things or unwilling to change with evolving circumstances, the match might not be ideal. Recognizing that upfront saves both parties a lot of heartache.
‘How does your strategic approach align with our ROI goals?’
There are countless agencies to choose from, and one of the greatest differentiators will be the strategy they bring to the table. If you find that you are getting a lot of jargon thrown at you—but very little evidence of strategic thinking—this is a red flag.
‘To what degree will we collaborate?’
Some organizations believe that signing an agency partner is going to make the whole thing hands-free, but expectations don’t always meet reality. Miscommunication can become a huge problem. To avoid possible concerns, ask your potential agency partner how they are going to manage communication and collaboration and what degree of your involvement they expect to have.
‘Have you produced great results for a company like ours?’
Find out if they have taken a company like yours from where you are to where you want to be in two years. Then talk to that company. There are way too many snake oil salesmen in the industry, and if you want to “win a Super Bowl,” build a team of players who have already been there.
‘Can we review your service-level agreement together?’
Ask to see and discuss the agency’s service-level agreement (SLA). Most every agency has some sort of SLA, but it is extremely important to have a full understanding of the type and level of communication to be expected. Make sure that the agency is going to provide you as much or as little communication and guidance as you prefer to ensure a successful partnership.
‘Will your solutions work with our brand’s values?’
A successful client-agency partnership rests on an alignment of vision and goals. At its very essence, an agency’s philosophy for creating solutions must be synergistic with a brand’s core pillars, be they innovative, creative or conservative. I always ask a business leader whether they are truly looking for the types of answers that my organization brings to the table.
‘How will we measure success a year from now?’
Clients should ask agencies to define—if they’re sitting down a year from now—what success they’ll have brought to the relationship and how it will have impacted their business. The pretenders will struggle to talk specifics. But success has to be measurable on a realistic timeline. Real contenders can take your identified need and tell you exactly what measurable impact they expect to bring.
‘With whom do I get to work?’
This is one of the most essential questions to ask an agency before making that final decision. All too often, the agency’s director is present in the initial pitch or presentation, yet the client is then delegated down to a junior account manager who leaves after six months and doesn’t have the same level of experience.
‘What are the ways this might not work?’
This is the best question to ask an agency to understand how they see the risks of the relationship failing. Often, finding a match is like dating, and you only really know a fit when you’re working together. You can judge any agency based on where they see the risks of failure being. If they say there are no risks, run!
‘What do you stand for?’
Ask what they are most passionate about. Business partners basically become your work-wife or -husband, so it’s essential to ensure they are a good culture fit.