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Glenda LeGendre: How to choose the right PR/ad agency

Editor’s note:

We’re pleased to introduce Glenda LeGendre as our newest columnist. A principal in her own marketing and communications firm, Glenda was the longtime vice president of marketing and digital communications at Stevenson University. She has a rich and broad background as a strategic communicator who has helped businesses, hospitals, law firms and nonprofits achieve their communications goals. She’ll offer our readers useful and expert guidance in navigating today’s increasingly complicated and sophisticated marketing landscape. Glenda’s column will appear every third Thursday of the month.

I recently asked a woman who hired her first ad/PR/marketing communications agency how she chose the particular firm. She commented gleefully, “Because they were the cheapest.”

This naïve approach is how not to select an agency. A cost-based selection process is never mentioned in any online search as a good criteria for selecting an agency. So what approach should a client take?

Chuck Penna at PPBH in New York believes “a brilliant choice can reap positive benefits. You want a partnership.”

Choosing the agency should not be an impulse decision nor should you go with the alleged “hot” agency. The client should start by defining objectives with a small team of vested staff serving as the internal decision makers. These objectives usually include goals, timing, an approximate budget to achieve your goals, and how to measure success.

This is the time to determine the skills you are likely to need from the agency. There are multiple and growing regional agencies that offer skills beyond traditional radio/television/print advertising, public and media relations, and event planning. Crisis communications and branding expertise are other potential needs. Video, web, social media, e-marketing and related digital communications are more recent capabilities. Writing copy and digital content skills are also emerging client needs.

Identify by word-of-mouth or by an online website search process a few firms that interest you and fit your stated objectives. For example, if you plan to do television spots, find some local commercial ads you like and ask the helpful local television station sales staff which companies produced the specific spots.

The next step is to send out a short questionnaire to a few firms. Data indicate three is the average, but some clients report to Chris Bennett in research conducted by his 97th Floor agency that they seek up to nine responses of interest. Invite the firms who respond to your place of business at this juncture for a capabilities meeting and an open discussion to share data, discuss their case studies, and their current – not past – clients. Finally, the client team should then schedule a visit to the agencies of interest.

At this point, each agency should provide a customized “dog and pony show” for your team on specifically how they can help you achieve your goals. This is your chance to see the energy, creativity and vibe from the firm and its team. They will showcase their successes. You should also ask about their failures and how they recovered. And you may want to check out the firm’s employee satisfaction on sites like Glassdoor.com.

The departures of creative talent can be very telling of a continuing staffing issue at an agency. Ask for a list of client recommendations and follow up by telephone.

For your final decision, there is also the dilemma of whether you want to choose an agency with great expertise in your category or one which would like to have you as the only client in your genre. This varies with the client and the industry, but you should ask the agency its opinion on the topic. Most importantly, find out precisely who will handle or manage your account. The naïve person that started this discussion ended up with the unwelcomed surprise of a junior representative assigned to her account sometime soon after the engagement began.

There is clearly an investment in time on both sides to be successful. The more there is a collaborative fit, the better the quality of the resulting relationship and achievement of the desired marketing results for your business.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net.