- Describe my brand.
This gives an agency a chance to demonstrate that it's done its homework. Its staff should be well versed in your overall message and strategy as well as tactical matters, such as where you've placed ads before. As the agency folks talk about your company, look to see how passionate they are about what you do. And look for any special insights about your positioning in the market, which will show that they are not only good researchers but also independent thinkers.
- How many clients do you have? How big are their accounts?
Every agency has a pecking order. Ideally, you want to be one of several lead clients, says Dave Beals, CEO of Jones Lundin Beals, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in agency search and selection. "You need to balance attention to your account versus the breadth and depth of an agency's resources," he says.
- How well do you know my industry?
This is a bit of a trick question. You want a company that is familiar with your industry, but if the agency works exclusively in one field, there's a chance it won't be very innovative--or worse, that it'll end up repurposing old ideas. An agency with experience in a few different areas is more likely to try something new.
- Can I meet your copywriters and art directors?
Agencies always trot out the bigwigs for pitch meetings. Make sure you meet the little guys--the account people and the creative team with whom you'll actually interact, says Mel Sokotch, author of Shortcuts to the Obvious: How to Get More Effective Advertising More Efficiently. How impressive are they? And how confident are their bosses when it comes to introducing you to them?
- Tell me the story behind a winning campaign.
Ask the agency to identify how it moved from the client's direction to the creative execution, where the ideas came from, and how they were tested. Then loop back to the client. The agency's process should become clear--as should its willingness to collaborate.
- What are the different ways that I can pay you?
Some agencies still live by the vaunted billable hour, while others charge a flat fee per project. Some companies, including Procter & Gamble, now offer incentives to their agencies, says Beals, by paying a percent of sales, for example.