Choosing an agency: Personal chemistry but with due diligence

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Marketers these days spend a lot of time thinking about budgets… or, rather, the lack thereof. But you might be surprised to learn that money isn’t the top factor they consider when looking for agencies to work with.

According to the Marketing Forum’s recently released 2016-17 research report, the most important attribute that clients look for in an agency is not price, innovation or knowledge. It’s personal chemistry.

Nearly 70 percent of the professionals surveyed during the forum’s annual networking get-together said that person-to-person ability to “click” was the top reason for putting a new agency on their shortlist for a new project or campaign.

Personal chemistry is much more than the business version of ‘love at first sight’, though. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, for instance, describes personal chemistry as more of a process than a single spark between potential partners.

First impressions are important, Wilson notes, but subsequent meetings can help confirm or disprove those impressions. Good references are also a part of that process, he says, as is how well you handle negotiations.

And don’t ever doubt that negotiations aren’t important, even if you feel like you’ve made an amazing connection with a potential agency partner. In business, as in life, things can change in unexpected ways. To avoid unpleasant surprises in the event that personal chemistry falters, it’s smart to heed an old journalism saying: ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’

Good person-to-person rapport is important, acknowledges Benjamin Gomes-Casseres, an authority on alliance strategy and management, and a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School. But personal chemistry without due diligence can lead to painful failure over time, he warns.

“Don’t rely on chemistry – particularly if that chemistry is between only a few of the principals involved – in deciding and managing a major deal,” Gomes-Casseres writes in the Harvard Business Review. “Even trust is an unreliable foundation when it is held by individuals and not supported by broader organisational interests.”

To ensure you build a solid working foundation on top of that “click” with an agency, you need to ask questions of both that agency and others it has worked with. You should also probably keep your options open by negotiating with one or two alternative agencies just in case things don’t work out. And it goes without saying that it’s also crucial to make sure your working terms are spelled out clearly on paper.

“A personal touch, good intentions and enthusiastic teams are never enough,” Gomes-Casseres says. “These need to be supported by a clear division of rights and duties, effective communication channels, and good escalation procedures, just in case.”

In other words, as another famous saying puts it, ‘Trust, but verify.’

 

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