Selecting a creative agency

Solving the Prospect Puzzle

This week I presented at AMA Portland’s June Luncheon with Barbara Holmes, Director of User Experience at ISITE. Attended by more than 70 local marketing professionals, the energy in the room was high. The goal of the presentation was to share preliminary research results from a study ISITE is piloting in conjunction with AMA PDX. The purpose of the study is to uncover findings in two areas:

  • What are the ideal attributes of a digital agency of record
  • What are the pain points that they experience as part of the selection process

ISITE adamantly believes in the power of primary research and understanding the mindsets of one’s audience. As an agency partner, we want to know as much about the behaviors and attitudes of clients’ audiences as possible. When we looked for existing research regarding our own audience, however, we found that there wasn’t much out there. As a result, we decided to do our own. The results presented at the luncheon were the first attempt to share what we were beginning to learn about our own target audience through the execution of the study.

ISITE is using two primary methods for the research. The first is a survey distributed to AMA marketing executives to gain quantitative knowledge. These findings are being compared and contrasted against the second method’s qualitative results—interviews facilitated using journey mapping exercises. ISITE is conducting these semi-structured interviews with digital and marketing executives at mid- to large-size enterprise organizations that are not ISITE clients. (ISITE is approaching this project from the perspective of an independent researcher.) Agency selection criteria

The executives are armed with markers and paper to create a journey map  and asked to draw their story about how they chose their last agency. The researcher asks questions about the process of choosing and purchasing, as well as how they share their experiences. The illustrated journey showcases various touchpoints  which help the researcher to understand the story behind the process, and ultimately identify opportunities for improvement.

During the luncheon we also shared a journey map showcasing our own sales process. Attendees at the luncheon were excited about the data visualization slides, but where we really struck a chord was with the map itself was expressing—ISITE‘s effort to move towards changing the level of effort from responding to the opportunity to investing in the relationship upfront. Agencies in the room acknowledged having their effort applied in the wrong areas and wanting to make a similar change.

The importance of relationship also emerged as a key consideration in the survey and interview results. The hypothesis thus far is that chemistry/cultural fit, communication skills and the client’s personal team are of utmost importance when choosing a digital agency—more so than an agency’s ability to meet a deadline, for instance.

We will work toward proving or disproving the hypothesis with continued research, as well as aim to answer a few of the questions we fielded during the Q&A:

1) It is generally known in survey research that people are not always entirely truthful about budgets. Really, how important is price to prospects in relation to other decision making criteria?

2) Agencies usually have a core expertise, but how important is category experience? Should agencies pass on opportunities where they don’t have experience in a vertical, or should they continue to tout transferrable skills and that inspiration and best practices can come from any industry?

3) If an agency is going to respond to an RFP and doesn’t have a prior relationship, how can they position themselves as the front-runner amongst the consideration set?

I am eager to see what other insights this study uncovers and excited to take the results and develop an action plan. My ultimate goal is to provide an even better customer experience than we are today.

But we need more data. As we have only just begun to understand the mindset of our target audience, our goal is to reach out to additional AMA chapters to garner additional survey results and to talk to more marketing executives responsible for selecting a digital agency of record.

Do you know a digital or marketing executive who might be interested in participating in our study? If so, please contact me at

Related posts:

Learn from your clients

Mapping the customer journey

How and why do companies choose which creative agency to work with?


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