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How Brands choose Agencies

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It is always Pitch Season for a busy and established agency. It is an excellent occasion to gain some prospective clients, or even some leads to develop the future of the business. Whoever’s been in the game for long enough knows that brands choose agencies in all different ways and it’s quite difficult to understand what approach to adopt when wanting to take on a new client.

The way brands choose agencies changes depending on their needs, of course, but often it is also about the size, scale and interests of the business, as well as the chemistry with the internal marketing team. Smaller, local brands will obviously choose a different approach compared to a multinational corporation, perhaps more focused on results rather than a certain connection with the creative team.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Here’s how brands choose the best agencies to work with, and how you can ensure that you’re at the top of your game for your next pitch.

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Image credit: ENGINE for MoneySuperMarket

How do brands choose agencies?

First, a premise: clearly, not all brands will choose to work with an agency. Some, like the Walt Disney Company, ITV or the BBC, will have an internal creative and brand team to manage creative projects for the brand. Others will choose a more hybrid model – like Nike, employing some agencies on the side while still doing its own creative work from within the company.

This is not to say that Disney, ITV or the BBC do not work with external freelancers and agencies every once in a while, but rather, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for brands choosing their next creative/branding agency. There are certainly a few general guidelines to refer to. Do note that, in most of these cases, the best way to know is simply to research your client as thoroughly as you can.

They set clear guidelines

Some brands like to know precisely what they are looking for, down to the very core. This is a commonly-accepted approach and quite widespread, as marketing teams will want to lay down all the specifics for the kind of agency they want to work with next.

Everything from legal issues to fees, idea ownership and messaging may be planned in advance by the brand’s marketing team, which will then go on to choose the best agency that matches those requirements. It’s quite understandable when you think about it. These brands are picking a strategic partner with which they need to work for several years, and acting this way ensures that the agency of choice will understand all the key requirements at all times. One example of such approach, as reported by HubSpot, is Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

Multiple VS Single Agency

If you are planning to work with a smaller brand, it’s almost a given that they will choose to work with a single agency for a number of years. However, many multi-nationals and global brands prefer to work with a number of agencies instead, though there will almost always be a lead one for the most significant (and meaningful) tasks.

It is common, for example, to have an agency deal with all the digital assets and campaigns for a brand, whereas other agencies will be handling separate projects in print, OOH, TV and more. If you specialise in any of these fields, you may be able to secure a deal with a larger brand even if they already have an agency deal with someone else.

Smaller agencies will probably have more chances to secure smaller and local clients until their portfolio grows big enough, so they can expect to handle all of the creative collateral for their client if that is the case.

Sector Experience

All brands operate in their specific niche and sector (or, at least, the good ones do), so it is expected that all will require some sector experience before securing a deal with a prospective business partner. For some, however, it may matter more than the average.

Several agencies will have some experience working in FMCG, but there will be some more specific sectors (such as healthcare, science and law) which require specific guidelines and sometimes even a specific tone of voice. Crafting a campaign for a charity isn’t the same as creating one for Coca-Cola. So if you are pitching to a large law firm, they will probably look at your previous experience in the sector rather than mostly focus on your creativity.

That said, there will be brands who look at that too as a key factor when choosing an agency. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Track Record

How good is your past work? Do you have previous stories of success and results in similar projects? All these matter when pitching to a brand that aims to play ‘safer’ to ensure future business partnerships are as successful as they can be.

Brands are looking to improve their relevance and grow their profits in the industry, meaning some will want to see proof of expertise before establishing a relationship with an agency. Measurable, outstanding results will be a huge advantage when pitching to these brands, which may be looking for tangible proof as well as previous experience in their own sector.

Not ideal for an independent and growing agency, but understandable nonetheless.

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Image credit: Cheil for Greenpeace

Creativity

On the other end of the spectrum are those brands and marketing departments who don’t want to deal with a bunch of executives all the time and would rather focus on the actual creative impact and energy from the chosen team.

This is some exceptional thriving ground for smaller and growing agencies looking to showcase their creative drive. These brands will look at your ideas before your results and they will take into account a balance of the two, rather than just measurable successes.

Needless to say, these are often smaller and local brands, though not necessarily. The most playful and ‘cool’ brands, such as Oreo, Red Bull, Starbucks, Nike and others, will be willing to dare a bit more than others and will sometimes look for that distinct creative drive that will propel them forward.

Aggressive Results

Some brands will have a different set of needs altogether. They will be looking for a track record of aggressive results and growth to fuel whatever momentum they may have, or to get out of a slump they have put themselves into.

These will be brands looking to establish themselves as category leaders, sometimes starting from a relatively limited position. There will be little space for creative drive here, but an agency with disruptive ideas and a proven interest in driving change will have high chances nonetheless.

These brands also represent a juicy challenge to those agencies wanting to revolutionise their portfolio, by helping a client shine to secure even more profitable business partnerships.

International Presence

As mentioned earlier, multinational brands and corporations will have more interest in an established agency with a proven track record of success. However, they may sometimes look for international presence as well.

How experienced is the agency with scale? Does the team have an excellent portfolio? Are they established on the global stage, and what other brands have they partnered with?

Brands such as McDonald’s will be paying attention to these metrics to determine whether an agency is the right fit or not.

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Image credit: DesignBridge for New Holland Brewing Co.

Human Connection

And yet you know, sometimes numbers, creativity and stories of success aren’t enough. Sometimes brands will choose their future business partnerships entirely based on the kind of connection and chemistry they feel with the team.

If the marketing department has a sense of confidence in an agency and that is paired with some good work in their portfolio, they might well take the agency on board. These brands will be looking for a human connectionwith the creative team, a chemistry that can only come when two kindred mindsets collide.

In a way, you could say that looking for the perfect business partner is a bit like dating. Playful brands will be more keen to establish these kinds of human partnerships, alongside smaller and local brands.

Foresight

Bear in mind that a business partnership between agency and brand may well last for several years. Foresight needs to be taken into account when a brand selects an agency.

Where will the brand be in the next 5 years? What will be the business needs? These brands will be established players as well as rising stars in the industry and they will be looking for like-minded individuals to join their mission for a long period of time.

When it just doesn’t work anymore

Some brands will be looking for a new agency or project on the grounds of growth, results, profit or whatnot. Most, however, just need a general refresh.

When a brand’s creative output has become dull, unoriginal or uninspired, it is quite common for the marketing department to want to spruce up the place and look for new and enriching business partnerships. These will be brands eager to change the way things were and looking for new voices to revive the business. It will be an ideal playing field for disruptors and extremely innovative agencies.

Clearly it is never good to be on the losing end, as the agency who is cut loose of the business partnership. It is, however, an opportunity for all parties involved, a way to learn something new and add novelty to a seemingly declining portfolio. And if you need any help in securing your next client… all you have to do is just jump back to the top of this piece and read from there. ;)


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