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Ask The Expert – How should I select a digital agency partner?

Leon Calverley

How should I select a digital agency partner?


We often joke that there are more digital agencies to choose from than clients.

So from the client side, we recognize that it can be tough to engage the right partner, for large enterprises, it’s often second nature due to expertise and experience.

But for some SMEs, it can be much trickier.

So firstly before auditioning agencies, be 100% clear about what you’re looking to achieve, create a clear brief with measurable outcomes, and decide what good looks like and what your criteria for accepting good actually is. Don’t miss out on that part.

If you’re unsure or uncomfortable work with a trusted advisor to set that out, it could just be one side of A4, but it would be really expensive if you don’t set out with that understanding, create a long list of suitable agencies, share your brief with measurable outcomes and ask for initial response. Ask to see some recent examples where they’ve met similar challenges and the results that are generated.

Be really careful not to be blinded by bait-and-switch claims that sound exciting but don’t actually address the business challenge you’re setting out to solve.

Then narrow down your shortlist to probably three or four agencies at most and invite them to present their offer to you as their pitch, get a feel for their capabilities and also their chemistry, you’ll need to work with them for months or for years.

You will need to be able to get along with them, however, their ability to deliver the results and meet your brief is fundamental whether or not they’re charming and witty.

Beware of asking the agencies to actually do the work in advance for the pitch. You’ll definitely put off some strong agencies who just won’t do this. Instead, focus on proving past achievements and evidencing strategic capability.

Use a rational scoring system, agreed upon in advance, to measure the agencies. Make sure you’re evaluating them fairly to avoid spurious decisions based on emotion on the day of the pitch. Who had the most appropriate experience? Which was the best size for you? Evaluate the cost, who was forecasting the strongest return on investment? And did they back that up with data?

Sometimes, using a trusted advisor or non-exec can really help make sense of this challenging decision. Finally move to contract with the selected agency, agree on what that performance looks like and whether you need a ripcord in case it doesn’t work out.

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