Most RFIs (request for information) sent to agencies are pretty standard, asking for facts, figures, management bios, client list, recent/wins losses, capabilities, strategic approach and examples of work. No doubt that’s all useful stuff. Some go a step further and ask for a description of the culture or perhaps what you think differentiates you from your competitors.
But if I were a CMO or a consultant, I’d want to know a lot more. Why? Because you’re not hiring an agency’s past, you’re hiring its future. And that future, while somewhat informed by previous accomplishments, is more likely to be a reflection of an agency’s vision, the newest people it’s hiring and its willingness to embrace what’s coming rather than preserve what’s been.
Here are the five questions I think you should ask.
1. What is the future of advertising?
This is a tough one for sure, but you’ll want to know if your agency has a clear sense of how much is changing, the new role of the consumer, the migration away from interruptive messages, and the technologies and platforms that make listening more important than talking. A forward thinking agency should have a pretty good point of view about how social media, technology, and the “good enough revolution” are changing the business.
2. What are you doing to assure your survival?
These days an agency should look pretty different than it did a few years ago. How have they made themselves more digital? What practices have been abandoned? How has the creative brief evolved? Maybe they’ve embedded connection planning into the creative group, developed alliances with best of breed partners, or launched a new practice. The innovator’s dilemma challenges all of us, but it’s no excuse for inactivity.
3. What are your criteria for hiring people?
Talent is everything. You certainly want people devoted to your business who have created famous work. But given that you’ll have to work hand in hand with people, you may also want to know what qualities the agency looks for. Curiosity? Courage? Relentlessness? Disruptive? Crazy? And find out for sure how many digital natives your agency’s hired recently. You definitely don’t want them playing catch up.
4. What is your definition of a creative team?
Who else besides the writer and the art director are on the team? Technology? User experience? Social media? Connection planner? Better yet find out whether or not the ageny even uses the label “creative” to refer only to writers, art directors and designers. It will tell you a lot about whether they think an idea is a message or something more compelling.
5. What are five recent creative ideas that aren’t ads?
Are they inventing new products for clients? Creating communities? Building platforms? Developing apps and utilities and WAP sites? Are they as committed to all the non-advertising platforms as to the :30 second spot? You might want to know. After all you may be hiring an advertising agency, but as the first question implies, advertising may be something different in the years to come.
What do you think? Other questions you should ask your next agency?