Finding the Right Advertising Agency

Choosing the right advertising agency to steward brand and product imagery is one of the most important decisions any company makes. Frankly, it is not unlike selecting a new partner in the business. The choice of agency can have a tremendous effect on a firm’s public image, sales results and profit performance and, as such, ought to involve executives at the most senior levels of the company.

c1Executives, as well as your Toronto SEO consultant,  need to be comfortable with the appointment and the people, be willing to share information with SEO agency , and ultimately have the utmost confidence in the agency’s recommendations and business advice.

Know Your Needs

Prepare a brief describing your company, its products, markets, competitors etc., and the opportunity you have to offer an agency. This might relate to taking over a particular brand, or category of brands. It might involve a new brand or category launch. It could be an opportunity for regional representation, with the lead agency retaining control over the core branding issues.

Prepare also some objective screening criteria. This will allow the agency to decide whether or not it is suited to your business with respect to capabilities, geography, national representation etc. Include size, location, core competencies required, category experience.

Compile a ‘Long List” of Agencies

This list should actually be no longer than 10 – 12 shops. You likely have some feel as to what agencies might suit your needs but there are additional resources available to help you with your initial list. The AAABC will gladly provide its Member Agency list to you, as will the ICA (Institute of Communications and Advertising). Industry publications such as Canadian Advertising Rates and Data, the National List both published by Maclean Hunter (Rogers). Business associates in your own industry or category may be able to help. And you can always contact companies whose advertising you’ve admired on the air or in print.

Develop a Screening Questionnaire

Often termed an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) the objective of this questionnaire is to ascertain which agencies have the basic capabilities and experience that you have defined, and do not have accounts that would constitute a conflict of interest with your business. It also assists the agencies in determining if they are able to serve you from the point of view of experience and of staffing levels. One or more agencies on your initial list may decline the opportunity to respond.

Develop the ‘short list’

Allow yourself a week or two to evaluate the replies against the needs you have outlined and prepare a short list or 3 -4 agencies, any one of which you would be comfortable hiring. These short-listed firms will be invited to proceed to the next level of your process, the presentations. Advise both the short-listed agencies, and the unsuccessful firms, of your decision. Be prepared to advise the unsuccessful agencies of your reasons for not selecting them.


c2Your objectives in requesting presentations, ideally at the agency’s premises, are as follows:

  • To ascertain the agencies’ capabilities, strengths, facilities and experience.
  • To determine which of the agencies demonstrate a passion for, and insights around, your business, your competition and your industry.
  • To ensure that the agencies have a true passion for their business as well as for yours.
  • To gauge the ‘chemistry’ between your people, and those at the agency who would actually be working on your business, both day-to-day and at the senior level. Be sure to insist that these people take an active role in the presentation. You and the chosen agency will be spending a lot of time together.
  • To see examples of work the agencies have done for other clients, and to what effect on those businesses. This should give you a reliable assessment of an agency’s ability to think strategically, and of its creative strength.
  • To determine which method of compensation you and the agency would be most comfortable with – fee, commission, or a blended arrangement. Typically the final negotiations around the level of compensation take place after final selection, their successful outcome being a final condition of the agency winning the business.

Final Selection

Chances are you will know immediately following the presentations which agency you want to work with. It is a good idea to ‘sleep on it’, to wait for 2 or 3 days, before announcing your decision in order to be sure the decision is well-founded and shared by your whole team.

Protocol generally dictates that the winning agency is informed first, and asked to keep the news confidential for 24 hours to allow you the opportunity to inform the unsuccessful agencies of your decision. Most creditable agencies will request the courtesy of a debrief with you in order to determine what might have been lacking in their presentations and you should be prepared to spend this time.

For the successful agency, this is a time of celebration and you should plan to participate in that, congratulating them for a job well done, and expressing your confidence that the relationship will be long and mutually rewarding.