I don’t know why we haven’t posted something like this before, but a guy was asking how to find an agency for his “online drum recording service” on Web Pro World News- so this was our answer:

Fascinating business model. Only problem is that now all the prima donna guitar players can find a drummer that might put up with their BS 🙂

On finding an advertising agency- for any business- large or small- our first advice to anyone is to learn a little about advertising. Wehighly recommend the timeless classic by David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising. We also have a tip sheet, called “Conversational advertising for everyone” on our site.
Once you understand better what advertising can and can’t do- the next thing is deciding if you really need an agency, or can afford one. We have a saying: “Advertising only costs when it doesn’t work”- think about it. If you spend X on advertising and get X to the tenth back in revenue, and profit structure is right, your advertising didn’t cost you a thing and your business is better off for it.
If you can’t handle a huge influx of work from the money you spent on advertising, you will probably be in worse shape than not having any business- since bad word of mouth travels faster than good. If you have no budget consider the book “Marketing without advertising” by Salli Raspberry & Michael Phillips (it’s out of print but worth it).
If you think your model can handle the business- by all means start interviewing agencies. As someone who has been in the business for a while, I can tell you the first question to ask is what else have the people at the agency done for a living and what made them go into advertising?
Why- because this isn’t a business about being cute- or funny- or cool, on someone else’s dime- it’s about selling things, and it’s serious business. I don’t know how many people I’ve met in this business (especially graphic designers) who have no clue about selling something other than their own ideas.
The second question is- what are their passions? If I hate sports, I’m not going to do a good job advertising your professional bicycle pursuit championships, but if I eat, sleep and breath bikes in my limited spare time- I’ll probably go to the ends of the earth to create the greatest ad campaign ever.
The third question is do you like the people at the agency? The working relationship between advertising agencies and their clients is like a marriage. You are allowing the other person to take your name and represent it to the world. With so many marriages in this country ending in divorce, it’s a wonder any ad agency/client relationships have a chance. Most important to this relationship (as in a marriage) is mutual respect and trust.
I’ve been assuming that you are approaching an agency that is the right size for your company all along- although if you are a non-profit, or something really offbeat that can allow an agency a chance to do something really creative and fun- you might get lucky with a bigger firm. You should always look for an agency that can afford to give you the right amount of attention for your budget.
So- once you’ve made it this far- start looking at methodology. There are agencies that always use the same formula for all their clients- TV, magazine, online, direct mail etc. Sometimes it’s based more on their own profit model/structure than your needs- be careful of that. The best agencies sell creativity- and are “media agnostic,” Crispin Porter Bogusky, the current darlings of the ad world have grown from a small Miami shop to a huge powerhouse by making small clients seem huge, not by spending more, but doing better creative. They started with the “Truth” anti-smoking campaign, moved up a notch with the introduction of the Mini Cooper to the USA and now have Burger King and as of September 6, 2005 VW.
You have to be willing to pay for creativity- not just media. If an agency is using the stupid model of a percentage of your media budget is their take, they will only advise you to spend more on media.
Look to what kind of “Brand voice” the agencies under consideration establish for their clients. Is it consistent, is it clear, is it distinct? Do they use a variety of media to surround the potential customer with your message? Does it evoke emotion? Does it make you want to be a part of the brand? This is what Crispin did so well with the Mini “Let’s motor” campaign. They found a voice for the brand, stuck with it, and spoke to their target market with a confidence that was sexy and smart.
The last part to look at, especially for a business that is dependent on the Internet, is to see if the agency really understands the net. Is it a part of every campaign? Do they insist on working on your site? Is the content updated often? Is it interesting, is it full of key words, is it built to search? If their own site is built in Flash- run. For the most part, Flash doesn’t search well, doesn’t tag well, and is useless for sending links to part of your site. A simple way to tell if a site is built well is to go to google and type in Site:theagencydomainname.com and see how many pages are indexed, how many have titles and descriptive descriptions. If the agency site doesn’t do this- how will yours?
Last but not least, call a few of their clients and ask how long they’ve worked together and how has their business grown.
We hope this helps answer your questions. Of course, I would hope you would consider our agency for your work, but, if not, we have a list of all our local competition on our site so you can do a comparison shop (and so that people looking for their poor sites, find us first 🙂

What do you think?