The beginner’s guide to finding an agency

Noticing that are running a poll on whether pitching is a good way to find an agency, it reminded me of a meeting this week where, when I asked how the contact had found us, they were honest enough to reply ‘Google’.

I often think that compiling a good pitch list must be one of the trickiest parts of the process for a prospective client, especially if you’ve not had an agency for a while. This shows in the variety of lists we end up on. Sometimes I have no idea what we have in common with our pitch competitors. Other times, our skills are perfectly balanced.

So, for what it’s worth, this is what I’d do if I had to find an agency. Not rocket science – in fact, I’m sure it’s what many clients do already – but hopefully it should help make the pitch process worthwhile for all concerned.

–          Obviously, if you’ve worked with an agency and like them, put them on the list again. But do also think about the key staff you’ve worked with. Individual ability and chemistry is core to a good PR agency relationship, so if someone’s left who you rated, you might want to track down where they are now, and see if working with them’s an option.

–          Look at who’s in the industry press and who’s winning awards. It’s not a cast iron guide – for example, things like League Tables are based on volume rather than quality of work – but it should give you a sense of which agencies are doing good work in your field right now.

–          Ask around. Ask everyone you know in a similar field to you who they use or who they rate. Ask journalists you deal with if they’ve got any recommendations. If you have friends you can have an honest conversation with agency side, ask them who they’d add to the list. This is particularly helpful if you work in a more niche field, where more generalist agencies might not be right.

–          Look at who brands you admire use – it’s often easy to find, as the agency contact details will be at the bottom of their press releases. Be careful of direct competitors though, as there might be restrictions on the agency working for both of you.

–          Think about your budget when compiling a list. You might love the look of a particular agency, but if all of their clients are massive blue chips and you’re a small charity, you might not be the best match. Look for agencies working on similar sized projects and be honest about the budget up front.

–          Agency matching services can be great, but they’re not always comprehensive, so combine them with your own research if you can.

–          If you have time, start with a long-list and whittle it down through a short stage involving a few relevant project case studies, or short creds. Most agencies shouldn’t mind that as a process, and it gives you a better sense of how they might work ‘in real life’, as opposed to how they present on their website or in PR Week.

–          Within that list, think about getting a broad mix of agencies, who are likely to come to your problem in different ways – for example, a balance of agencies who are known for their creative or strategic approaches, or have different (but still relevant) core client bases.

–          Take no more than four agencies to pitch. It means you can have time to really focus on supporting those agencies in the process, so they all come back to you with good responses. Too many agencies can feel a bit scattergun, and will put some off pitching all together.

And best of luck with it! May you and your new agency be very happy together.

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