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Five Tips for Finding a Good Agency Fit in 2021

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has forced com­pa­nies of all sizes to reassess their oper­a­tions, includ­ing how a pub­lic rela­tions or com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency fits into the mix, and tak­ing a hard, hon­est look at the val­ue a rela­tion­ship with an agency provides.

For Bell­mont Part­ners, the past 10 months have rein­forced much of what we already knew to be true regard­ing how we and our clients work togeth­er. One of our agency’s core val­ues is flex­i­bil­i­ty, which has been acute­ly impor­tant in the midst of a glob­al health crisis.

The pan­dem­ic and its accom­pa­ny­ing empha­sis on flex­i­bil­i­ty has also pre­sent­ed sev­er­al oppor­tu­ni­ties to become more effi­cient and effec­tive, and do an even bet­ter job at meet­ing our clients exact­ly where they are when it comes to how they need to work with agencies.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing chang­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions agen­cies in 2021, or work­ing with an agency for the first time, here are five things to keep in mind:

Your agency’s role doesn’t have to be as rigid as you might expect. It’s com­mon to begin a rela­tion­ship with an agency with a one-year or six-month engage­ment to build momen­tum and pro­vide an ample oppor­tu­ni­ty for both sides to get to know each oth­er. While Bell­mont Part­ners often begins this way, we also have the abil­i­ty to jump in and get quick­ly immersed in a short-term project or be tapped on a project-by-project basis. Many of our clients are long-estab­lished rela­tion­ships, in some cas­es we are the agency of record. Often we col­lab­o­rate with – and com­ple­ment – our clients’ oth­er agen­cies, from adver­tis­ing to dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing to brand­ing, web design and more. But all of our client rela­tion­ships have start­ed and evolved in dif­fer­ent ways, and we have plen­ty of less for­mal rela­tion­ships with many of the orga­ni­za­tions we work with. Some­times those rela­tion­ships expand into an ongo­ing or even agency-of-record engage­ment, but oth­er times, it works best to stick with occa­sion­al projects. Find an agency that’s will­ing to work with you in what­ev­er way works best for your sit­u­a­tion and needs.

An agency should act as an exten­sion of your team. Espe­cial­ly with increased lay­offs or fur­loughs since the pan­dem­ic began, it’s more impor­tant than ever to find an agency that can serve a spe­cif­ic pur­pose exact­ly when you need it. Are you look­ing for an agency to bring big ideas to the table, but your own team can imple­ment? Do you pre­fer an agency that push­es you to try new things, and then holds you account­able? Do you see your agency’s role as uncov­er­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and mak­ing con­nec­tions? Do you need a nim­ble team that can eas­i­ly exe­cute on the ground? Or all of the above? Bell­mont Part­ners uses a com­bi­na­tion of approach­es, depend­ing on what our clients need – and we adjust along the way.

For some clients, we focus on more strate­gic work. But this past year in par­tic­u­lar, we’ve had clients reach out to us for things they either just don’t have time to do or because they lost a mem­ber of their team, or a team mem­ber just get­ting start­ed in their career needs some direc­tion or help from us. And our work has been turned up or down, which doesn’t mean a pile of paper­work — they can just let us know. We love work­ing with clients that have built trust in us and call or email us just to get an opin­ion on some­thing that may not even be direct­ly relat­ed to what we’re work­ing on. Espe­cial­ly as meet­ings con­tin­ue to stay vir­tu­al, and we miss out on oppor­tu­ni­ties to gath­er around a sin­gle table, hav­ing part­ners and ven­dors that feel and act like a nat­ur­al exten­sion of your team is critical.

Big­ger isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter. While there are cer­tain­ly ben­e­fits to work­ing with large, inter­na­tion­al agen­cies with offices across the world, small­er shops have their advan­tages as well. Our clients tell us they appre­ci­ate the access they have to senior lead­er­ship: all of our team mem­bers, from the pres­i­dent to assis­tant account exec­u­tives, work direct­ly on accounts, and keep their skills honed through pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. And because we’re not behold­en to a cor­po­rate office on the oth­er side of the coun­try, all of our 16 team mem­bers are empow­ered to make impor­tant deci­sions to bet­ter serve our clients. We are in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with clients about bud­gets and adjust­ing if an out-of-scope oppor­tu­ni­ty or chal­lenge presents itself, rather than sur­pris­ing them at the end of the month with an unex­pect­ed invoice. We make choic­es based on what our clients need. Con­sid­er what’s impor­tant to your team, always talk to ref­er­ences or those who have worked with the agency before and ask them what  about the part­ner­ship worked, as well as what didn’t.

Keep an eye on con­sis­ten­cy. If there’s a com­plaint we’ve heard most often from clients who come to us after work­ing with anoth­er agency, it’s that they’ve had to spend count­less hours bring­ing new peo­ple up to speed, since their agency team changed often. At Bell­mont Part­ners, we’ve made a big invest­ment in our com­pa­ny cul­ture, which in turn deliv­ers the con­sis­ten­cy our clients crave. It’s been more than two years since a team mem­ber has left our agency, and a big part of that is due to our focus on a peo­ple-first cul­ture. Many of our rela­tion­ships and client engage­ments extend back a decade or more. Don’t ignore Best Places to Work awards as one gauge of how an agency func­tions — awards don’t tell the whole sto­ry, of course, but they do rec­og­nize the agen­cies where team mem­bers are engaged in what they do and the clients they work with.

Look for a part­ner, not a ven­dor. The best agency rela­tion­ships are built on a foun­da­tion of two-way trust, where your agency team is inte­grat­ed into and up to speed on your company’s oper­a­tions. Because our clients feel com­fort­able giv­ing us access to the C‑suite and to over­ar­ch­ing strat­e­gy, oper­a­tional chal­lenges, sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion, oppor­tu­ni­ties and met­rics, time and time again we’ve been able to offer valu­able coun­sel and per­spec­tive on areas of the busi­ness you wouldn’t ordi­nar­i­ly clas­si­fy as “com­mu­ni­ca­tions-relat­ed.” How do you find an agency that will work to become a true, inte­grat­ed and long-term part­ner rather than an order-tak­ing, trans­ac­tion­al ven­dor? Talk with cur­rent and for­mer agency clients to find out where the agency and its peo­ple thrive, and where they need work. Are they respon­sive, results-ori­ent­ed and pas­sion­ate? Will they make your job eas­i­er? Do they have a vari­ety of skillsets to tap if your scope of work changes through­out the year? Those are the agen­cies that deserve a sec­ond look. Seek out a col­lab­o­ra­tion that you’ll look for­ward to strength­en­ing every day, rather than an agency that might say all the right things on paper, but may drop the ball when it comes time to real­ly get to work.

Your agency rela­tion­ship should work for you and your orga­ni­za­tion. If you’re strug­gling to find the right fit, we hope these tips may help hone your search and clar­i­fy your expec­ta­tions for the results of part­ner­ing with an agency. If it sounds like we might be a good fit for what you’re look­ing for, we’re always hap­py to dis­cuss how we can sup­port your team’s evolv­ing needs.

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