Trying to figure out which agency will be the right "fit" for you is like trying to pick the right school for your child. You can physically go to the school and have a look around. You can meet the Principal and talk to other parents. But you won't truly know if your child will be happy there until they start attending. You just have to make the best call you can at the time. Figuring out if you will like working in a particular agency is very much the same.
The best way get intel on an agency is to talk to current and past staff (there's nothing quite like an honest opinion from those on the ground!). Using LinkedIn is a great way to find and contact people who could answer your questions.
Advertising and design agencies are as different as they are numerous. If it's not possible to get first-hand feedback, here are some tips to help decide whether an agency will be the right one for you.
Size is an obvious difference - a team of 6 will operate and interact quite differently to an agency of 200.
While a small team is usually more "agile", a larger company may be more "stable" and able to ride out changes in the economy or the acquisition/loss of accounts.
In a small team you'll know and become close to everyone, whereas you may be "lost" in a larger agency.
In a small team you may get to do a wider variety of work, but the projects, clients and agency may have a lower profile.
Who owns the company? Does the founder/owner of the agency work in the business day-to-day? A small to medium sized team run by a Managing Director will have a different vibe to a multi-national run by a someone who may or may not be personally invested in the business outcomes of the agency.
An owner-operator agency will be able to make decisions quickly, while a multi-national (or board-controlled agency) will be more bound by processes and consultation, but the results may be more robust.
"Design agency" vs "indie (independent) agency" vs "advertising agency". Labels, such as these ones, allow us to understand the services the agency offers; get a feeling about the size of the company; a maybe also a glimpse of the ethos of the agency.
An "advertising agency" typically offers a full-service spectrum to their clients, which will likely include media buying. A "design agency" usually works on "below-the-line" projects (e.g. no tv or media production). An ad agency focuses heavily on brand strategy and research to drive creative output for campaigns, while a design agency will excel in pushing work through on a project-by-project basis.
Have a chat to recruiters who specialise in jobs for agencies. These recruiters visit a multitude of agencies and have inside knowledge that could help to shed light on structure, staff (and staff turnover), management, culture and agency history.
Where you sit for 8+ hours a day will have a big impact on your enjoyment level at work. Is the light natural or artificial? Are the desks crammed together? Is it open-plan, closed offices or cubicles? Is the environment tidy/funky/colourful/inspirational/boring, etc. Though it may not be appropriate on a first interview, a second interview is a great opportunity to ask for an office tour.
The culture of a company will flow from the top down. The values, personalities and business decisions of the agency directors/owners will permeate throughout the whole company.
Though you may not be able to meet with agency management, you will often be able to see the outworking of a company's culture through their website. Have a look at the list of clients - are they corporate or "serious"? Are they sporting codes, events, high profile retail or charities? Are they clients known for being edgy or challenging advertising standards limits?
What type of work is the agency producing? Does it align to your own values, or is the work pushing the boundaries of your ethical, moral or religious comfort zone? The clients and work produced will be a good reflection of those running the agency and the company culture.
Once you've done your research and have had your interview, then - like picking a school - you just need to trust your gut instinct. No-one knows your hopes, aspirations, likes and needs like you do. Good luck!
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Research activities are typically initiated and conducted by your client, as part of their marketing remit. However, there is another type of research that is advertising-specific and is more likely to be initiated (or at least recommended) by your agency rather than by your client. The two main areas of research that an agency would get involved with are ‘pre-testing’ and ‘post-testing’.
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