Hiring An Agency? Ask These 5 Questions First.

Executive directors and others in communications leadership roles often work with public affairs firms to develop strategies and campaigns. This relationship is an important one.

As a communications professional turned agency owner, I’ve been on both sides of these interactions. What I have found is that the most successful agency-client relationships aren’t always found in the lowest bidder on a project.

There is a broader set of “fit” questions that are more important to a successful relationship with the firm you decide to hire. After all, just like hiring a team member, you need to find someone that aligns with goals and your values.

Here are some questions we think might help you find out if an agency is right for you: 

1. Are we compatible?

This is likely the most important and often the hardest to figure out right away. It is very possible to have a high-performing organization and a high-performing agency and the two can still not mesh. 

One hint: see if they support the same things that you do. Do their goals and wishes for society match your own? Are they spending time in the area that you care deeply about or will they work for anyone? This is often a good indicator of whether or not you will be compatible.

2. Will you have access to the people who are doing the work? 

Before I went agency side, I worked for a not-for-profit in which we used suppliers, including MediaStyle in its early years. There was one agency that forced me to go through a middleman every time I wanted to have anything edited. It was frustrating. If I had a tiny change, it went through layers of people and often the message was badly translated in the process. 

For some things, having a liaison makes sense, but if you can’t even CC the person who is doing the work on an email, you are being treated as a customer and not a collaborator.

3. Do they seem energized by the work?

How an agency treats its team says a lot about their ethos as a company. If there is constant turnover, it may mean that you will be handled by many different team members. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but definitely provides challenges over longer-term projects. Brain drain can slow progress.

4. How will they measure success? 

Does the agency report out valuable measurements? For example, can you see that they are providing you value instead of vanity metrics? Are they helping you meet your objectives on a complex issue or are they just delivering a well-designed report that doesn’t mean anything? 

5. Do they just tell you what you want to hear or will they push back? 

This is a valuable one, and likely not easy to figure out immediately but often a client will ask for X deliverable and it’s not always the correct solution for the problem. It may be a money-making request, but if in the end it isn’t the best way to get the desired outcome, you want an agency that will work with you to develop the right solution to your issue. 

Caitlin Kealey is MediaStyle’s CEO.

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