We’ve been growing pretty quickly these past few years, and when that happens you often need external support. More often than not we’ve turned to agencyland to find help.

Sometimes we’ve needed to bring in an agency on a tactical level, to help us with a specific – and perhaps one-off – project. On other occasions we’ve taken a longer-term view, with the aim of forging a strong relationship and retaining the agency.

Finding the right partner is just as difficult as hiring the right staff, and just as crucial. It goes without saying that not all of the agencies we’ve seen have been successful in winning our business. Sometimes there is a real sense of disappointment, especially when you like the people and their work, when you talk them up, when you know they have the skills, and when they fail to deliver in the meeting.

So here’s a list of common reasons why agencies don’t get hired. Many of these points also apply to consultants and freelancers too. To win more work, try to avoid some of the following…

Having an inaccessible website

How can I evaluate your agency if I cannot access your website? I wouldn’t hire an agency with an inaccessible website on general principles. 

Using Flash and making me ‘click to enter website’ is so very 2003, and as pointless now as it was back then. Designing mystery meat navigation is no way to win our projects. 

I have used my iPhone to visit agency websites while on the move, and if it looks anything like the below screenshot then it’s game over for you…

 

No ‘About’ page

All companies should have an ‘About’ page on their website. This is surely one of the only true rules of doing business online. I can think of no good reason why you wouldn’t have one.

The About page is normally one of the first pages I look for when trying to find out more information about an agency (or any other business, for that matter). 

I specifically want to know about the history, the team, and the company culture. The kind of work you do is important, but a portfolio-only website with no background information looks sketchy. 

Don’t avoid creating an About page just because you’re a small / new agency, or a one-man band. Do avoid creating one if you are a bit dim.

Tardy communications

“When did you send them the brief?”, asked our commercial director. 

“Shortly after the end of the US Civil War,” came the reply. 

Old Chinese saying: ‘You snooze, you lose’.

Being late for the meeting 

Nobody likes to be kept waiting. If there’s potentially money involved then there can be no excuse. 

This isn’t about my colleagues and I behaving like divas, it’s about the folks who are ‘trying’ to win the business. If they’re late it suggests that they’re not trying hard enough. Are they late with their project deadlines too?

Lack of attention to detail

Typos are bad enough in emails and blog posts, but in mockups and other presentation materials they are unforgivable. 

The detail always matters. It really matters when an agency is trying to win our business. It may sound silly but we do actually care about the spelling of our brand name, among other things. 

Poor, half-assed presentation

If you’re not bothered about presenting your ideas in the best possible light then why bother showing up? No printouts? Half-baked mockups? Hungover? A lack of preparation (and energy) can be fatal.

All the gear but no ideas

We love people who share ideas. This isn’t about you giving us free expertise, it is about showing that you understand our needs, our brand, our audience, our tone of voice. By contrast, a lack of ideas or an unwillingness to think out loud can leave a bad impression.

There’s nothing wrong with showing a little leg.

Failed to understand our business model

“Oh, so you’re not actually a consultancy…?” 

Ugh. We’ve heard this so often. While we do have a consultancy division there is rather a lot more to our business than that. Didn’t you do your research?

Didn’t ask enough questions

If you’re going for a job interview then here’s one piece of advice from me: always ask more questions than the interviewer asks you.

Works every time, for a number of obvious reasons. The same applies to agencies when a new client is in the offing. Dig deep with those questions, to help you understand the client’s needs. 

Didn’t understand our goals

All of our projects are there for a reason. It is important for partners to see how a project fits into the bigger picture. A lack of awareness about the tactical value of project is bad news for us. 

There are budgetary goals too. Projects have costs and targets assigned to them. If we know that a campaign will deliver a maximum of £20k in revenue over its lifetime then there will be much head scratching if your agency quotes £50k with the “guarantee of ROI”.

Signs of hubris

We’ll throw money at the things that work, to scale them up, but some things just don’t scale. So be very careful when walking towards a dead end. 

Convincing us that something will work and is worth spending a chunk of money on does not necessarily mean it will work. It may convince us that you’re deluded.

Hubris is a very bad thing.

Patronising 

Based on the amount of blog posts and reports we’ve published, we know how important Google is to our business. But thanks for clarifying.

Too much chatter about previous work / clients 

Talking about your previous work is a good thing if it is relevant. It is an awful idea if it isn’t. 

We don’t really care about who you’ve worked with, we only care about the quality of the work you’ve done. You won’t be hired simply because you’ve built a rubbish microsite for the biggest brand in the world.

Promises of secret sauce

“So how are you going to do that exactly?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

Nope. We know that the dark arts can be very dark indeed. There be monsters. Swerve!

Playing buzzword bingo

Thanks for “reaching out” but no, you may not “circle back”. Enough with the buzzwords! Industry jargon is often unavoidable but please try to speak plainly. Some words should be avoided at all costs. Especially ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy’.

Too wishy washy 

Sometimes you attend an event in the hope of learning something. You want real nuggets of insight, to find new tools, and to see examples of creativity. Instead you sit in on a social media session where the speaker repeatedly rams home a simplistic message: “You must listen! You must engage!”. Minds = not blown.

We really like the detail. We’re not so much into broad statements. Get to the point. 

Bad cultural fit 

Personal relationships and a strong cultural fit matter a great deal. Are you going to be able to gel with us, and vice versa? Do you work in a similar way to us? Do we share the same values? Are you going to go the extra mile because you actually like your client?

No real plan of attack

“So what comes next? How will this work?”

“Um…”

When it comes to hiring an agency (or contractor / consultant / freelancer for that matter) what are your biggest turn offs?

[Image by Dita Margarita via Flickr, various rights reserved]