When to (and When Not to) Bring on an Additional Agency

March 11, 2016

August 24, 2015  |  By Cheri Keith

When making a switch to a longer race distance, runners must ask themselves if the gear they have will work for the new training program, or if they will have to bring additional gear. For example, will the existing hydration pack be able to carry enough water for those extra-long 20-mile training runs?

Runner

B-to-b leaders are often left scratching their heads about what to do when they need to find a partner to execute a new type of project. They must weigh the options of finding an agency in a new category or having an agency they currently work with tackle a project that likely falls outside of their wheelhouse.

An example of this situation is expanding an influencer relations program to include analyst relations. There are specialist agencies that focus on this discipline, or you could look at stretching your current public relations (or media relations) agency to do this work. There is a delicate balance of getting more work from one partner vs. adding another partner to the inventory (and another group for your team to manage). The SiriusDecisions Services Model clearly shows how categories can overlap, especially in companies that use limited external resources.

The (unfortunate) answer to the question of whether to bring in a new agency is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach, because each situation is unique. There are pros and cons to each option – here are four considerations as you evaluate which will work best for you:

  • Time to value. It’s no secret that it takes a significant amount of internal resources to bring a new agency up to speed. If you’re in a time crunch for this project or know you don’t have the resources over the next several months to spin up a new agency, your time will be better spent working with an agency that is already on board, such as seeing whether an agency you’ve sales talent assessment can support a sales certification project. This question comes up frequently when companies look at pulling together a certification program at a sales kickoff meeting on short notice. While there may be benefits to using a specialized sales certification or compliance company, using an agency that is already up to speed on your business could support the kickoff deadline.
  • Balance of work. Consider if the new project would be complementary to the other work the agency is completing. Do you see a seamless intersect between the two? A good example is evaluating the need for an analytics agency to support an application. The Web or interactive agencies you’re currently work with likely have enhanced analytics capabilities that could be added to their current work.  This especially makes sense if the agency has been involved in the design and building of this application.
  • Project size. An important consideration is the size of the new project compared with your current scope and retainer with other agencies. If the project is small with respect to your spending (for example, under 20 percent) or a one-time project, your other agency would likely absorb this project at a reduced rate. The larger the project, the easier it becomes to think about hiring a separate agency for this work. This comes up often when it comes to content production. It may make sense to have a content agency already on retainer complete a one-off request for a whitepaper series, but a multimedia content campaign that would span months may require a separate agency.
  • Specialization. If the project requires a high degree of specialization, it is imperative that you thoroughly evaluate your current agency’s abilities in this arena. Asking for case studies with clear ROI and speaking with other customers are mandatory before you can move ahead with a project that requires a high degree of specialization. This comes up frequently with social media projects. Communications leaders often question if they need an agency that specializes in social media to help them get a more robust Twitter strategy, or if their public relations agency could support this effort. Finding out if your public relations agency has true social media chops can be determined through case studies and talking with other clients.

While there will always be the need to evaluate agencies on a one-off basis, we recommend that you also evaluate your agency mix on an annual basis. Doing this in lockstep with annual planning is a good idea to ensure the external resources you have can still align with your priorities for the year. Are there any other considerations you have when evaluating agencies for projects in adjacent spaces?

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