[ 5 minute read ]
Choosing a vendor is a headache for any business. When you need a vendor who works in the creative industry, the difficulty increases tenfold. You’re no longer assessing their suitability based on empirical data – you move into the realm of the subjective quality of creative work. If you’re not a creative type, it can be tough to understand what you’re looking at, or how to value or budget for the strategy behind it.
This article will guide you through the process of evaluating potential vendors. It uses a case study scenario to show how shifting your focus away from the price point can open you up to a valuable agency partnership.
The case study scenario: Set up
In our example, you (the company) lack the internal capacity to grow your content strategy. You have two options: you can hire in new talent, or you can outsource this content strategy to an external agency.
As a risk management measure, you opt for the latter, with the idea that you can assess the effectiveness of a content‐led strategy in the future.
You are choosing between three content strategy agencies:
Agency A: Is a small agency specialising in content strategy and delivery. They work with a team of contractors to provide content creation and execution. They offer a 12‐month package for $4,000 monthly.
Agency B: is a medium‐sized full‐service marketing agency with a dedicated content team. They work on a per‐project basis, with a package of blog content costing $2000 and a whitepaper $10,000.
Agency C: Is a medium‐sized content agency with a separate customer insights arm. They create content informed by the data procured through customer insights team. They require a $20,000 investment in customer insights upfront, followed by a $5,000 monthly fee for twelve months.
Which agency do you choose?
There’s more to vendors than their sticker price.
You know the numbers in your budget and you’re trying to find a supplier who will do the most work possible for the price you’re willing to pay. You may immediately default to the per‐project pricing of Agency B.
But there are other factors to consider.
With creative work, thinking in terms of quantity over quality isn’t the best approach. Agency B may produce more blog content, but it may also be more generic, involving no additional research, and it might not speak to your core audience in the right way. Agency C, on the other hand, has a higher upfront cost but is able to leverage actual research results to create compelling content that is a perfect fit for your audience.
A successful relationship with your supplier looks like a partnership – you work together to achieve your business objectives. Open communication and a certain ‘chemistry’ between agency/client will help you develop a strong relationship, according to industry expert Stephen Judge in The Guardian.
You need the best possible fit, which means you should consider vendors based on your own range of criteria, including:
- The value‐add they can bring to your company.
- Their onboarding process and how they align strategy to business objectives.
- Their financial background and available resources.
- Their network and connections.
- Your rapport and level of trust.
- The quality of their work.
- Their lines of communication.
- Their reputation and the prestige of working with them.
Knowing your criteria is key to getting the best price.
Sometimes the best price isn’t what it appears. It all comes down to knowing your own criteria. Namely, what business problem are you trying to solve through a vendor?
In our example, Agency B could have the best price, because you’re working per‐project, not on a monthly basis. However, because they are not a content‐specific agency, and their focus is on production, they aren’t deep diving into strategy in the same ways in which both Agency A and Agency C would.
Agency C has a unique system that allows them to produce a quality piece of research‐driven content. However, because of their business model, their strategy focuses on fitting your needs into their system, instead of the other way around.
Agency A, on the other hand, isn’t tied to a specific model, so is able to pivot your strategy into a targeted approach.
Therefore, in this case study, they’re the best option based on your specific criteria.
How your aims impact your vendor decisions
If your reason for hiring an agency is a need for a strategic partner to lead a dynamic content plan for your company, then this will cause you to choose one agency. If your aim was to demonstrate your expertise in your industry or satisfy your customers with regular, pithy, content updates, then your vendor choice will be different.
There are also other factors to consider. In her article for Inc., Carolyn M. Brown explains that from the onset you need to determine your criteria for a vendor.
These considerations include aspects of the business, such as:
- Size of the company
- Number of certifications
- Quality management systems
- Complaint history
- Financial security.
In Brown’s eye, a quality management system is a vital consideration. Any potential vendor should be able to list their procedures and explain to you how complaints or issues are handled.
Criteria for choosing a creative agency as your vendor
The below assessment table offers a checklist you can use when collecting quotes and researching different vendors. Click here to get the PDF version.
|Criteria||Agency A||Agency B||Agency C||Importance (rank each criteria in order of importance)||Business objective (how will this criteria help meet your business objectives)|
|Size of company|
|Number of years in business.|
|Trusted authority (link to online reviews, media releases, or other evidence).|
|Quality management system|
|Certifications and qualifications.|
|Experience of your industry.|
|Access to research /data.|
|Cost of services.|
|Quality of showcased work.|
|Value added through use of agency.|
|Available resources (contractors, strategic partnerships).|
|Details of offering /package.|
|Level of trust.|
|What, if any, customer research will they conduct?|
The ‘best price’ for you may not be the cheapest vendor, because that vendor may not meet the criteria you’ve set up to achieve your business goals. By focusing solely on the price, you miss the critical components that make a vendor the right choice.
Getting clear on what you want from your creative agencies ensures you enter the research process with open eyes. Your primary goal is to build a long‐lasting relationship with a trustworthy creative agency who will help you grow your company to the next level. What that relationship looks like should be determined by you and your needs.