Selecting a Web Agency

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Whether you feel it's time for a change or you are about to select your first partner in business, the route to selecting an agency is an important one.

So how do I select an agency?

Most creative industries will require similar steps to those shown here but the focus is really on the web development industry. In general, bear in mind a few factors.

Firstly, your selection at this point will probably have a lasting effect for the coming 4-5 years at least - most likely even well beyond the period of time you are dealing directly with an agency.

Secondly, no partnership should ever be seen as a cost - it is an investment, and should be approached as one. Ultimately all management, strategic decisions and budgets will (and should) remain with you.

Thirdly, through all the meetings, sales literature and promises of great things, the most relevant factor is the portfolio and the clients who have paid for them. Take some time to look through the work and talk to the clients directly - what is the agency like to work with? What was the brief? How close to budget and timescale did the project work out? What is the relationship like on an ongoing basis?


Selecting a shortlist

You will need to draw up a list of potential "suitors" first so that you have a reasonable spread of names and contacts to start the process of selection.

There are a number of factors that you may want to take into consideration at this point depending on you, your company, your market and your geography.

Market focus

Do you feel that you will need specialised assistance and in-depth market understanding from your agency? This is more common in highly technical or litigious industries such as pharmaceutical and or tobacco. If so, you can avoid costly mistakes but are likely to pay a premium and have your shortlist as a very-shortlist.

Geographic location

Are you likely to require many regular meetings over the course of a year? If so, being able to "pop next door" is often a lot less costly than trekking across the country but you may not get the range of services you had hoped for in one place.

Capabilities

You will want to write down the key capabilities that you are looking for so that they can be matched against suppliers services. It is generally best to stay relatively flexible on your secondary requirements, as these can often be arranged with an agency through outsourcing.

Size of agency

Do you prefer the larger, higher resourced agency or a smaller, more flexible agency? The general rule would be to find a creative development company that reflects the size of tasks and projects you have in mind. If you have 5000 employees but your actual marketing and technical requirements are reasonably low, you are only likely to need an agency of 5-10 employees. If you have 100 employees, but you are very heavily driven by outsourced projects, you may be more suited to an agency of 50+ employees.


Finding Agencies

At this point it's time to look for those names.

You may find the Yellow Pages, industry magazines, the Internet or your own personal contacts to be useful sources. Have a look at websites, ask for some literature and, if you wish, give them a call to find out rates, capabilities and any additional information you may find useful.

The key here is that though you may have an initial list of 12-30 names, you really need to narrow this down to 4-5 companies so that you are not deluged with responses to your brief. Again, this may be higher if your requirement is very large and smaller if the proposed project is very small.


Proposing the brief

It is now time to match your shortlist with your brief and meet with the chosen few. An important note to make here is that there are two ways that an agency can respond to a brief.

The first is to read through the brief, do some background research, think through some ideas and propose the best of them with an associated cost. The second is to create some designs and present them to you with an associated cost.

Costs tend to be done in one of two ways. Fixed cost (or project costing) gives you a single fee that you will pay providing that your requirements stay relatively close to the original brief. Estimated costing gives a target figure to the client but also transfers the liability for changes to the client on a per hour basis.

Our opinion (and this is a very emotive issue in the industry) is that proposals are best done with clearly thought out ideas that do not include "free" visuals. When we are commissioned by a new client, it is a granted that we will produce visuals - hand in hand with the client - which are high quality and suit the purpose to which they are intended.

The downside of "free pitching" is that the ultimate cost of this is often higher to the client i.e. if 3 agencies pitch for 3 jobs the odds are that each will get one job but 9 sets of visuals have been done - and there is only ever one person who foots that bill - the client.

Likewise, we project cost all proposals as we are confident in our budgeting and we know that all projects need some flexibility of resource within the budget. Estimates often look lower initially but they are rarely lower than fixed costs by the end of the project.

However, there are many factors which influence the reasons for how you would like proposals responded to and as long as you state your preference, you should get some good proposals.


Questions to Ask

  • Does their image make me feel comfortable?
  • Do they have the skills I need? Resources?
  • Can they display case studies of similar successful projects?
  • Did they attain the level of professionalism on the telephone, web and print that I would expect?
  • Are the initial costs acceptable?
  • Are there any value added services that may prove useful?
  • Would I take them home to meet Mother?
    (OK, you're still paying attention)

Decision time

There is little we can add at this point.

The agencies that quoted for you will undoubtedly be professional, competitive, capable and very often it is down to that all important "feel good" factor you may have had with one of the agencies - a match made in heaven?

Make sure that you are managed well as a client, that you get what you require, represent good value and that you keep setting those targets at a high but achievable level!

You never know, one day their name might also sound something like "Harmony Internet Limited" :-)