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Managing Director

5 min read

Six insider tips for shortlisting suppliers

Between us we’ve worked at over a dozen agencies (studio, agency, consultants, whatever they call themselves). We know how they work. So, if we were picking a supplier to work with, these are six things we’d use to cut the bad from the good.

1. Personality

We love/hate this. It adds an element of messy human chance to something that feels like it should be more process-driven. But in truth, if you don’t get on with the people you’re working with it will make it trickier to communicate frequently and openly.

Personality isn’t about just clicking and having a laugh, it’s about respect and understanding too. But you should be able to share a joke.

2. Location

In the digital age of collaborative technology you can work with anyone anywhere. But international projects working across time differences are difficult and can feel like a game of pass the parcel.

Even national projects go more smoothly when people are within a sensible distance to manage a half day meeting.

By the way your agency should be clear on whether they charge for meetings or not. If you engage with an agency 200 miles away but meetings are always incur additional costs, then this will get messy. That being said, we do enjoy building our road trip playlists.

All in all, if you fall in love with an agency don’t let distance stop you, but try and think through the practicalities.

3. Budgets and day rates

At the early stages you probably have a rough budget in mind but may want to see what each agency comes back with before you decide on your investment. An agency should be willing to give you a ballpark estimate. Typically this will be based on two things: firstly, comparable projects they have done in the past and secondly, a high level estimate against your requirements.

But don’t get caught out going for the cheapest. The lowest day rate may come with additional charges and the lowest ballpark may well demonstrate naivety about the scope of your project. Make sure they benchmark their day rate against competitors.

4. Sector experience vs. Solution experience

Has the agency tackled similar problems? It’s worth taking the time to separate the problems or business objectives from the sector you’re in. Just because an agency worked in the same sector does not mean the experience is necessarily comparable.

It’s all well and good choosing an agency that has the right experience, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone who works there. You might want to ask what team will likely be working on your project, newbies (enthusiastic and eager to show skills) or seasoned pros (calmly leading you through the project).

5. Find the core skill set

Does the agency have the right skill set? This isn’t just a box-checking exercise. The agency should not only say they have the right skills but they should be able to demonstrate to you where they specialise in the areas you’re interested in.

Bigger agencies might claim to do everything, for example, the mythical ‘integrated agency’ but in our experience of working at agencies we can say there is usually a core skill set and then a peripheral ‘yeah we could have a go at that too’ list of skills or services.

6. The secret of a good project is…timing

Agencies don’t like to lift the lid on this but sometimes they book in too much work for the number of people they have. Projects can be planned upfront in granular detail, with resource schedules and milestones all neatly plotted on a Gantt chart. Does it work out like that? Nope.

A good agency should establish a dedicated team for your project and reserve time in their schedule for when things don’t go according to plan. If an agency say they can start working on your project right away, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Here’s two examples (of many we could give).

  1. They can start tomorrow. It’s a quiet time and your enquiry has landed nicely

    That’s fine and you can put it down to good fortune, fate or karma. If this is the case, there’s no reason they should give a different answer. But why are they quiet? An agency that is really good should be in demand and should be forecasting way ahead.

  2. The agency is big enough to have a pool of people sitting around waiting to pick up the next project that lands

    You may hear this referred to as a ‘bench’ of people. Again, that’s ok but ask about whether the people have worked together before on projects as a team. The team has to work well together. If they’re new, then that forming stage where people mix and gel will be done on your project, remember that.

Do you want some free advice?

You may have some questions after reading this article so feel free to get in touch with us. We know this stuff inside out so it’s no skin off our nose to have a chat with you and point you in the right direction.

Don’t worry, we’re not salespeople, we think helping people find the right agency is good for our industry and in the long run that’s good for us.

You can get us on 0114 360 3604 or