It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since Gloo became a living, breathing company. It’s been an amazing ride. We’ve worked for some really diverse companies from a well-known hair and beauty brand to a major US bank; from several top-tier IT firms to one of the world’s biggest oil companies. And the projects have been pretty varied too from traditional brochures, websites and whitepapers to modelling tools, social networking projects and smartphone apps.

We could have written a post congratulating ourselves on all our hard work and growing roster of clients. But we thought it would be better to share insights we’ve learned that you, on the other side of the fence, can use when choosing an agency.

Look for a personal commitment

We put a lot of effort into building and maintaining relationships with our clients (and suppliers). We could have grown more quickly if we’d used one of the many CRM packages available, and treated our clients as if they were numbers. But that’s just not how we tick. We’ve enjoyed building individual relationships with the people we work with, and those efforts have been rewarded. 85% of our work is repeat business or from personal recommendation.

Our launch campaign was a great example. Instead of sending out hundreds of mailers to a list, we sent some delicious custom Gloo cupcakes to selected contacts. It cost us relatively little, but it brought in several jobs, and perhaps most importantly, it made a few dozen people pretty happy on a Tuesday morning when was the last time that you got emails thanking you for your latest len-gen piece?

Tip: Trust your gut. An agency is a partner, and you need to know that they’ve got your interests truly at heart. If they make you feel valued from day one, and really get what you’re about at an individual level, grab them with both hands. And take recommendations seriously.

Take case studies and client lists with a pinch of salt

We’ve been up against much more established agencies, which have impressive websites and reams of case studies. But we’ve found that generally these companies offer the weakest competition: they need a flashy website because they lack substance. And it’s you, the customer, that ends up paying for their big promotional budget.

You’ve probably seen some… shall we say “creative” CVs in your time. Well, many agency websites are even more questionable. It’s incredibly common for agencies to list projects that are years old, and where they’ve since lost both the client and the key staff behind the work. It’s an old industry joke that almost every agency lists Sony as a client an agency I used to work for did, despite having never worked for Sony directly, only as a subcontractor to another agency several years before.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to challenge an agency’s credentials and ask awkward questions. Ask how old case studies are, and if the key staff involved in each project are still on the payroll.

Big-name case studies may not be very representative of the experience you’d get as a client, either. One trick that some agencies pull is to wheel out the big guns for the pitch, but leave you with lower calibre account managers and creatives once you’ve started cutting POs meanwhile the heavy-hitters go back to serving clients with higher profiles and bigger budgets. Make sure that the team that you’ll actually work with has the experience and skills that you need, otherwise it will never be a happy or successful partnership.

Tip: Chances are that you’ve planned to check references in the past, but its amazing how often people don’t follow through. Do it! No agency worth its salt will mind you talking to its customers or its creative staff.

You can’t please all the people all of the time

We’ve won an average of about two jobs a week over the last year, and worked with dozens of people at more than twenty different companies. Most of those partnerships have gone extremely well. But despite our absolute best efforts, there have been a couple of projects that didn’t work out as well as we would have liked. And we’re happy to admit that: it’s taught us a thing or two. Honesty is always the best policy… don’t you agree?

Tip: Finding a new agency is a lot like filling a job vacancy. So why not ask them that interview favourite, “What’s your greatest weakness?” If they say “perfectionism”, show them the door! Or ask them about the last project they had that went wrong. If they say “that never happens”, don’t trust another word they say.

So, there you have it: our top tips for choosing an agency based on a year of watching customers and competitors. No bull. If you want to see how we measure up to the high standards we’ve set out, you know what to do!

Posted by John on 5 September 2011