How to choose the right ad agency.

Look beyond the pitch to make sure you’re really getting what you need.

According to Agency Spotter, there are over 120,000 companies and entities that choose to define themselves as advertising agencies in the U.S. alone. Worldwide the number is over half a billion.

That’s quite a universe. How can you possibly choose the right one? Or, maybe more importantly, avoid choosing the wrong one?

There are several considerations that can help you narrow the field considerably … and help you get the outcomes you are seeking.

Choosing the right agency is all about right-sizing.

Ad agencies run the gamut from one-person shops to multinationals with tens of thousands of employees. To determine the size agency that is best for you, it’s a good idea to start with the classic FPR (Fish-to-Pond Ratio).

When choosing your agency, consider picking one in whose pond you will be a suitably sized fish. You don’t have to be the biggest, but you certainly don’t want to be the smallest either.

Basically, the business you bring to the agency needs to be of sufficient scope to ensure that you will get the agency’s “A” creative team and that your calls and emails will be answered quickly.

Larger agencies have achieved and maintained their success by employing intelligent resource allocation strategies. So, if you’re a Fortune 50 company, an agency will pull out all the stops to ensure that they get and keep your business. Not only will they be working with bigger budgets, most likely, but having your brand in their stable will also help them attract other clients.

So it’s fairly intuitive that the larger brands would go with the larger agencies, and vice versa, but what about the rest of us?

If you are a smaller account and you choose to work with a larger agency, you are likely to have a more junior creative and account team doing your work — while you still pay that big agency premium. This does not mean, by any means, that the work that will be done on your behalf won’t be good or even excellent. Odds are you’ll have hungry young creative working on your behalf, and that might surface some interesting angles that might not have otherwise been developed.

Working with a smaller organization or even a freelancer helps to ensure that you have their undivided attention at all times. They may not have all the bells and whistles of the larger agency, but at the end of the day, you can be certain that the person/people you met will be the one(s) directly working on your account.

Choosing the right agency means not paying for stuff you can’t use.

Take the price/value consideration one step further. Don’t pay for agency capabilities you can’t or won’t ever use. For example, it’s very cool to work with an agency group that has an office in Hong Kong. But, if you’re not in the Asian market, it’s inconsequential to you.

If you are doing a fully integrated campaign, with broadcast, print, digital and social, then by all means look for an agency large enough to provide those services all under one roof. But, if you can’t take advantage of those capabilities, then don’t pay the overhead for them.

If you’re doing a single channel campaign, choose a creative resource that specializes in that channel. Direct marketing is a great example. Every agency I’ve ever seen says they “do DM.” But the fact of the matter is that few do it well and most often the best solution is found outside the traditional agency model.

Choosing the right agency means paying the right amount.

Everyone loves a bargain. But make sure that you pay enough to ensure you get the work your brand deserves.

Of course everyone operates under budget constraints. But, just because you CAN get a logo for $25 bucks doesn’t mean you should.

There are a lot of starving art directors out there who will do your project for embarrassingly little. That’s because clients call the shots like ever before. It’s never been easier to find someone, somewhere, to underbid a project. It’s not difficult to find extreme low-price creative.

In creative services, as in everything else, you get what you pay for. A ”too good to be true” bid will most likely result in narrow thinking, top-of-mind, solutions and work that is derivative if not down-right generic. Pay your creative professionals like the professionals that they are, and you will get results that are exponentially better than the cut-rate providers

One final (but often overlooked) consideration

Size matters. Price is important. But don’t forget about approach, philosophy … values.

Are you looking to be interruptive and breakthrough the noise? Choose a creative resource that’s done that for other clients? Do you want a more traditional, blue chip approach? Find an agency that has experience with those types of clients. When looking at a creative portfolio, it’s as important to look at how the work was executed, and the strategy it employed, as it is to see if work has been done in your business sector.

To sum up: Large agencies are great for large accounts, but may not provide the best value for every client. When shopping for a creative solution, make sure you choose a resource that will give you the attention you deserve. And choose your creative providers as much for their approach and point-of-view as for their experience in your sector.