Of course every agency wants your account- especially if you spend a lot of money. But what about the smaller client, who has a limited budget? Search firms are out- as are many of the suggestions in the following article:
Choice of ad agency like marriage — pick wisely - Charlotte Business Journal:

They do start out with this comparison:

Picking an advertising agency can be like dating. It all boils down to chemistry, gut feeling and finding a relationship that works for you.”The process starts out as a linear, logical one. It ends up with gut feel and intuitive fit,” says Cleve Langton, chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. “The best process is the one that most closely simulates a marriage. Chemistry is what decides it at the end of the day.”

We agree with the idea of a marriage- but it’s not chemistry that makes the difference- it’s mutual benefits- chemistry just makes it easier.

Just like a marriage- trust and respect are key- as is honest open communication and a willingness to try new things.

Afterall, you didn’t hire a new agency just to continue doing what you were doing with the old one, did you?

But as you read further into the article, the suggestions start going south:

The process has three parts:

  1. Contact agencies and find out the minimum size budget for its client base.
  2. Inquire about the areas in which an agency has the most experience before you say what industry you’re in. If an agency doesn’t have experience in your industry, look elsewhere.
  3. Metrics refer to the increase in sales or foot traffic that an agency has generated for a client in the your industry. If an agency will not disclose that information, that’s a bad sign. A client should seek an agency that’s not afraid to make projections of benefits based on their experience.

Start with up to 20 agencies, experts say, and then whittle that to six or fewer. The final round should include three agencies. Avoid limiting your options to two, just in case one of them backs out late in the process, Langton says.

In the final stage, the agencies should come up with some creative ideas for you to see.

We think there is a better way- and it doesn’t start out with your budget size now. Afterall, when you get married, often times you don’t have much to work with do you? The idea is to grow together- shared risk, shared rewards- because if there is no risk- there is no reward (at least not in business).

So- instead, start identifying the type of work you like. Things you are comfortable with- and put together a “portfolio” of aspirations for your companies marketing. Write your business plan- and show what you hope to achieve through the relationship- so that you and your potential new agency can both be looking toward the same thing. Advertising isn’t instant gratification- it all takes time and patience. If you both start out with the same vision- you have a better chance of reaching it.

Next, identify agencies who have clients similar in size to you- then look one step below. That’s right- look for the one who needs your account more, because you will be higher on the priority list. Then look at the work they’ve done- does it look like the work you’ve got in your book? Look at their website- is it up to date, how does if feel? Is it about the work, or about the agency? Agencies that talk too much about themselves- are just like a bad date.

Then, and only then- ask for a meeting. Be totally honest about what the meeting is about. Ask to see some work they’ve done for other clients- and discuss the process, the restraints, the budgets (if they’ll share) and get a feel for how the agency approaches a project. Don’t ask about what they would do for you- or any kind of spec campaign. You wouldn’t ask for sex on a first date, would you? At least not from someone you respect.

At the end of this meeting, you should know if their vision for growth, could be part of yours.

The next step is to offer a small project, with a small budget to the agencies you felt most comfortable with. Better yet- give them all the same project - and see what they come up with.

Remember to evaluate the qualtity of the ideas- it’s more about the process at this point- and the relationship. How well they listened- and how well they shared their ideas.

For this marriage to work- communication is key.

We have a page of “agency search firms” on this site- you can check many of their sites for their methodology- or you can try it our way.

Either way- the cost of a failed relationship can be huge- there are no such things as pre-nups for hiring an agency.