Looking to hire a new media agency? Here are some tips...

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Advice for marketing managers who are seeking a new digital media agency.

“Christmas comes but once a year, now it's here, now it's here”. A time for giving, a time for sharing.

Well, if the last year of Navigate's existence is anything to go by, we could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas this year started in January. We’ve spent the last 11 months giving and delicately managing our perennial conundrum – the beastly two worded topic that strikes hope and fear in equal measures into managing directors of media agencies around the world – new business.

Like thousands of other media agencies, Navigate are not immune to the struggles of ensuring a fresh stream of exciting new leads come into the agency. Helping to keep employees motivated and the cash flow buoyant – bringing in new business is top of the agenda item each time we have a management meeting. Where will it come from? When will it come? How do we do it?

In a sense we are a victim of our own success. Now an established, international digital media agency, we are eternally grateful to those clients and peers that continue to recommend us. We are fortunate that a large proportion of the new business we secure comes from these recommendations – something we are very proud of. Many other leads come from identifying and nurturing warm prospects that find us organically or through some of the paid for advertising we do across Google, Bing and YouTube, as well as those who connect with the (social) content we share.

The balance of these leads come via our website or a speculative call to our general office phone number. Despite promises of untold fortune from exciting briefs, many of these ‘prospects’ turn out to be time wasters, who have no intention of working with an agency.

Having spoken to many of our peers in the industry, I know we’re not alone. Irrespective of agency size, we all have the same problem. That problem comes straight out of an A-Level economics book – the principle of supply and demand. Too many agencies giving ideas away to a small number of clients who we believe don’t know how to work with an agency.

As a business, we will always believe in the old adage of ‘speculating to accumulate’. We tackle every new business opportunity professionally and respond on time, with proposals that we believe answer the brief we’ve been provided. Unfortunately, this level of professionalism isn’t always reciprocated – a trend we have seen with increasing regularity over the last year.

Regrettably, the time for giving and sharing without this goodwill being reciprocated must come to an end in 2018.

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to do their job, but perhaps I can offer some advice to marketing managers who maybe looking to hire a new (digital) media agency. I can’t help but think if we could all agree and stick to some of these ground rules then agencies would feel they were being treated reasonably and clients would gain respect for doing the right thing.

1. Be adventurous

Pick the agencies you brief based on recommendations and your own research. Give smaller independent agencies like us a chance. Our staff are just as clever, passionate about digital and as capable as those that work in bigger, more well known agencies. We’re going to be cheaper as well.

2. Be transparent

From the outset let us know why you are looking for a new agency and how realistic the chances of the brief coming to fruition are. Honesty is always the best policy. Be up front and please don’t waste our time.

3. Be realistic

Make the pitch process competitive, not counterproductive. You don’t need to brief more than three or four agencies. More than this and every agency feels undervalued.

4. Be clear

Create a clear request for proposal (RFP), with specific objectives and key performance indicators (KPI’s) that don’t conflict with one another. You’ll get out of a campaign what you put into a brief, so if you can spend time to curate something detailed, you’ll reap the rewards from a better response and in turn, a better campaign.

5. Be patient

Let us deliver a decent response to your brief. Asking for ‘some top line ideas ASAP’ is basically interpreted as ‘you’ve been asked to come up with some top line ideas by your boss and they need them ASAP’.

6. Be communicative

Manage expectations throughout the RFP process and be available for ‘without prejudice’ questioning. Going quiet after an initial flurry of communication makes it a lot harder for those working on the pitch to deliver what you’re looking for.

7. Be human

Procurement teams invariably take the chemistry out of new business, turning it into a paper shuffling, administrative nightmare. Realise that we are a business trying to make money too. Challenge us but don’t chastise us – if you want a great agency to produce great work for you, appreciate that ‘you pay for what you get’ applies in the agency world too.

8. Be respectful/honest

If we don’t win your business, please don’t ignore our requests for feedback. We know we won’t win every pitch we go for, so if we don’t, help us come close by letting us know how we can improve. Oh, and please don’t steal our ideas and give them to someone else.

We want our clients to be that client everyone in the agency wants to work with. Help us and we can help you be that person.

John Kimbell is managing partner at Navigate Digital.

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