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Choosing an Agency: The Checklist

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Choosing an advertising agency

Once you have some names of agencies you need to choose which will be best for your
business. It will help if you are clear about the:

  • target audience you want to address
  • key messages you want to put across
  • key objectives you want to achieve
  • budget you have set

Creating a shortlist

You should ask the agencies to provide you with information about themselves. Tell them
what you want and ask them to give you quotes. Consider:

  • Are they the right size for you? Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
  • Do they have the right expertise for you?
  • What is their reputation?
  • How do they charge and how do they measure effectiveness? Will they negotiate on fees?
  • Are they a full-service agency, capable of handling work other than classical advertising?
  • Do you like them?

You should arrange to meet some of the agencies – ask around three of them to pitch their
ideas to you.

The final selection

The pitch is where an agency competes for your business by presenting prepared work.
Agencies might charge for this.

When you ask an agency to pitch you should provide it with:

  • a clear brief
  • details of your budget
  • the nature of the contractual arrangement you want.

It can be good practice to sign a confidentiality agreement at this stage.

Find out if the team pitching to you will be the team that works on your account. Most businesses find that personality is important. You need to get on well with people in the agency you employ if you’re looking for a fruitful, long-term relationship.

The Right Advertising Agency For You

Finding the advertising agency that’s right for your business depends on a few factors: where you’re located, the industry you’re in, the kind of advertising agency services you need, and the budget you have in mind.


Do you prefer to work with an agency located within driving distance of you? Or are you comfortable with an agency that will make the majority of contact with you via email, phone and fax, with face-to-face meetings set up as needed? If this is the first time you have worked with an advertising agency you may prefer working with a local agency.
If you have worked with an agency before, or if you find an agency that you feel will deliver the best advertising for you regardless of their location, then a longer distance from your agency may work for you. It all depends on your needs and your comfort level.

Industry Experience

Is prior experience with your industry a mandatory for your agency? Probably not. If the advertising agency you choose to work with does not have experience in your industry, they will quickly learn everything they need to know about your particular business and the challenges you face. There are only a few industries, like pharmaceutical for instance, that are required to create advertising in a very specific way, and must work with an agency that specializes in their industry.

The Services You Need

What kind of advertising do you need? Are you looking to do TV, radio, outdoor or print, or a mix of these? Then you want an agency that is capable of creating ads for each of your desired mediums. Do you need an agency to plan and budget your advertising, write and design your ads, buy the media space for your ads to run, and deliver the ads to your media partners? Then you’ll need a full-service agency with all of those capabilities.
Some agencies specialize in just one advertising medium, like creating web sites or designing interactive advertising. Not sure what services you need? Don’t worry. Any of the agencies you connect with through All Advertising Agencies can help you determine the best kind of advertising for your business.


Having an advertising budget in mind for a project or a set period of time is an important factor in choosing your ad agency. Prospective agencies can evaluate the budget you have and help you determine the best way to create the advertising you need within that budget. Agencies may also have minimum budgets they will work with, so having a ball-park idea will help lead you to the right agency choice. Again though, this is something that an agency can easily help you determine.


The last part of the equation is fit. You hire an agency for their advertising skills and their ability to listen, understand, and effectively respond to your needs. After your initial contact with the agencies that All Advertising Agencies has provided you, take some time to evaluate their responses. Of all the agencies you spoke to, which one can best do the work you need done? Which one can you see working well with? And which one best fits your overall criteria? When one agency stands out above the others, All Advertising Agencies has found the right advertising agency for you.

Selecting an advertising agency (aka a marketing agency or creative agency)—or, more to the point, the right agency—is a crucial decision for any company. Choosing wisely will lead to visible, positive results for your company. The wrong agency fit, conversely, will not only be a waste of money but also make your marketing life miserable. Too many companies take a haphazard approach to this critical decision; they may get lucky, or they may not. Based on years of experience on both the client and agency sides, here is a structured approach that should lead to the best decision.

Step 1: Develop a long list of agencies to evaluate. The best source in compiling this list is referrals from colleagues. Additional sources are the local Yellow Pages or Internet resources such as or All Advertising Agencies. Start with at least six agencies to investigate further, but no more than 12.

Step 2: Conduct your initial research. Use the internet to check out the agencies on your initial list and eliminate any obvious poor fits. Some agencies focus on specific industry niches, while others have a broader focus but are clearly more business-to-business (b2b) or business-to-consumer (b2c) oriented. Most agencies won’t work with two or more clients who are direct competitors, so if you see one of your closest competitors on an agency’s client/reference list, drop them from consideration. Make sure each agency
includes the services you need among their core competencies. The goal in this step is reduce your initial list down to five to ten agencies for further consideration.

Step 3: Develop your request for proposal (RFP). This step in actually somewhat controversial, as there are “experts” out there who will tell you not to use an RFP, but rather to utilize a request for information (RFI), which is largely more a semantical difference than a substantive one; the goal is to collect some specific information from each of the agencies on your list, whatever you want to call this. Other sources will tell you that agencies hate RFPs, when what they really mean is that agencies hate poorly-crafted RFPs; following the outline How to Write an Ad Agency RFP will help avoid this

In developing your RFP, remember that you are seeking to establish a business relationship with a marketing agency, so 1) respect their time, and 2) don’t just ask questions, but also give the agency enough information about your industry, your company, and your specific needs to determine if there is a fit from their perspective.

Have all of the individuals on your internal selection team sign off on the RFP before sending it out; there is nothing more frustrating, for you or the agencies involved, than to go through the entire RFP process only to have to do it over – because a key individual on your end wasn’t consulted, you didn’t ask the right questions, you didn’t have the objective(s) identified properly, or due to some other avoidable circumstance.

Step 4: Call each agency on your list. Introduce yourself and your company, and tell them you’d like to include them in your RFP process. This step serves three purposes: first, it allows any agency which doesn’t want to respond to your RFP, for any reason, to opt out of the process right away. Second, it enables you to speak directly to an appropriate individual at the agency and begin establishing a rapport. Third, it assures that you will be sending your RFP to the right person at the agency. You should tell this person how many agencies will be receiving the RFP. You don’t have to volunteer the specific names of the other agencies you’ll be contacting, but should provide this information if asked.

Step 5: Send out the RFPs to the agencies who have agreed to participate. Make yourself available to answer their (inevitable) questions, and let them know that you are available for this. If you have included any out-of-town agencies on your list, be aware that they may expect at least partial reimbursement for their travel expenses if you invite them to give a presentation; get agreement from your internal selection team (specifically those with expense approval authority) beforehand as to how you will handle this.

Step 6: Evaluate the RFP responses, eliminating those agencies which are less than an excellent fit for your needs, in order to get down to your short list of finalists (at least two, but certainly no more than five). In evaluating the responses, ask questions such as: are you comfortable with their experience, size and resources? With their approach to your challenge(s) and objective(s)? Are you confident that your account will be large enough to be important to them? Are you impressed by the quality and tone of their creative work?

And of course, call their references. Specifically, ask about their satisfaction with their agency relationship. Does the agency consistently meet specified timelines? Do they adhere to their quoted prices? Are they easy/pleasant to work with? What results have been achieved?

Step 7: Arrange for presentations from each of your finalist agencies. Ideally, unless you are able to eliminate an agency from consideration after the first presentation, you should schedule two presentations with each agency: one at your facility (to give their personnel some impression of your offices, people and work environment) and a second at their agency, including a tour.

At this step you and your evaluation team will have the opportunity to share with the agency representatives more information about your industry, your company, and your unique strengths, challenges and goals. Each agency has the opportunity to tell you more about their capabilities, approach and practices. While the facts are certainly important, the most critical criterion at this point is chemistry: are you comfortable with the agency’s team, and are they people you look forward to working with and entrusting with your company’s promotional activities?

Step 8: Finally, after reviewing the RFP responses and meeting with your finalist agencies, it’s time to make your final selection. Regardless of the titles involved, your internal selection team should agree to discuss the merits of the competing agencies as peers in a freewheeling discussion. In a perfect world, you would all agree on which agency was the clear winner; in the real world, compromise will likely be necessary on someone’s part, and the final decision may not be yours. That’s why the freewheeling discussion component is critical; if one individual (e.g. your CEO or CMO) ultimately makes the final decision, at least all of the facts and opinions of the team have been aired.

As the last step, you need to inform each of the finalist agencies of your decision. Because the rejections are tougher, I recommend getting these out of the way first. Call each agency and let them know of your decision and, in a positive manner, the reasoning behind it. Follow up with an email thanking them for their participation in your process, praising their strengths, and again briefly stating your rationale for the final selection.

Then, call the winning agency and give them the good news.

Best of luck with your agency selection process!

Checklist: choosing an advertising agency

You can increase your sales by using advertising and promotion as part of your marketing strategy. An advertising agency can help you, but they will charge a fee. Given the broad range of advertising options available, it pays to get good advice from a reputable agency if you want to ensure your campaigns are effective. Before you choose an advertising agency, you should:

  • find out the size of the agency
  • check if they are members of any professional associations
  • ask what media they specialise in and if they have any particular creative strategies they prefer to use
  • examine their past campaigns and find out how successful they were
  • look at their types of clients, past and present
  • ask about the main people who will be working on your account and their track record
  • see if they have any experience of working for your type of business and if they understand the competition in your field
  • check how they assess a campaign’s effectiveness
  • get an estimate of their fees and what’s included – eg whether they would accept a payment-by-results agreement
  • take up references from their clients if possible.


  • 1. What is the size of your firm? Number of clients? Number of permanent employees vs. number of contractors? Where are they located?
  • 2. What is your experience in our market and technology area? Can you provide examples of your ability to understand technology and communicate it in an accessible manner?
  • 3. What are the backgrounds and experience of the team that would work on our account? What other accounts do they work on? What % of time do they devote to each? (3-4 accounts should be maximum for an account executive) WWW.SRFUNDS.COM
  • 4. Team structure. Who, exactly is responsible for what facets of the program activities? Will there be one person who will be our day-to-day contact? When will we meet that person?
  • 5. What is the full range of services your agency provides? Do most clients use all or just some of your services?
  • 6. Provide sample of ad creative and describe case studies of advertising campaigns detailing measurable results.
  • 7. Provide three current or recent client references with requirements similar to ours.

Strategy Development and Planning

  • 1. How do you ensure that a company’s positioning and branding strategies are properly conveyed in the advertising campaign?
  • 2. How does your agency work with our content and messages to develop the creative campaign? Is there a standard ‘creative brief’ that you use? Please provide examples of creative brief documents.
  • 3. How do you involve clients in the creative development process? Timing and steps?
  • 4. How many creative ideas or ‘concepts’ would you submit for our consideration? What is the approval process for a creative campaign?
  • 5. Describe your media planning process. How do you determine the appropriate advertising vehicles and schedules? What does a typical advertising and media plan look like? How long does it take to develop it and what time period does it cover?
  • 6. How will your agency address the issues associated with the fact that our markets may be global, that we have potential customers in several geographies outside of the U.S.?
  • 7. What is your experience in integrated marketing campaigns? How will our creative campaign work in on-line, trade shows, collateral, sales tools, channel promotions, etc? 8. What is your experience with channel and co-op advertising? Have you done templates and ad style guides, for example, for distributors both U.S. and International?9. What is your experience with merchandising funds? How have you best leveraged these types of programs for your clients?
  • 10. What do you think are the key publications, websites, newsletters, etc. that we should be targeting? Have you worked with them in the past? What were the results?
  • 11. How should advertising programs be measured? How will we know we’re successful?

Billing and Fees

  • 1. How do you bill for services? Is there a retainer or will we be billed by project or on an hourly basis? If hourly, what are the rates of the various team members and what will their roles be? If retainer, what if we don’t require any services during the retainer period?
  • 2. How are project fees approved? How are potential overages approved?
  • 3. What do similar companies spend on advertising? Provide a range that includes all variables: agency fees, production, insertion schedules, and any other related expenses.

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