Choosing an agency in Asia

Choosing an agency in Asia

Agency selection is never easy. Asking seven questions can help marketers navigate the challenge for their Asia-Pacific businesses.

Asia, like the rest of the world, is seeing a blurring of traditional agency boundaries. Once-distinct advertising, media and PR agencies are increasingly joined by multi-service digital and social media agencies competing for marketing spend.

Add to this the fact that agency relationships typically last no longer than three years, and that CMOs are expected to deliver measurable returns on every marketing investment: if you’re about to appoint an agency, your task has never been more important or more complex. These seven questions will guide your selection:

1. Do the agency’s expertise and credentials match your strategic objectives?

This is about fundamental fit and will depend on your company’s size and growth ambition. If you’re trying to extend nationally or internationally across Asia Pacific, a heavyweight ad agency with its multi-office structure can bring crucial expertise and knowledge that may be lacking inside your business. However, if your objectives are closer to home, big players may lack local consumer insight. Your agency must be able to demonstrate a detailed understanding of your category, competitors and communication challenges. Do they have a track record of successfully expressing and activating similar brands?

2. Will you get value for money as you allocate your budget?

It can be hard to evaluate what you will receive for your money. Some full service global agencies will operate on vastly inflated fee structures compared with local competitors. Depending on your needs, you may get significantly greater value for money with either a global specialist or a local agency.

3. Is there a proximity problem?

Depending on your objective, you may need to be working closely together on a regular or prolonged basis. The practicalities of location should not be overlooked.

4. Do you have a size match?

Big agencies are often structured to serve multinational corporations. Their full-service capability may be an intimidating, overwhelming and ultimately unnecessary match for a smaller brand owner. Conversely, working with a boutique or specialist agency can increase the face time with senior agency staff who may provide a more dedicated and personalised service.

5. Can they excite and showcase new thinking?

Do they excite you? Do they ‘get’ you? If you’re challenged to communicate differentiation, category understanding will be important, but look for an agency with a track record of delivering genuinely new ideas and breakthrough solutions. This has never been more important, as commoditisation is beginning to blight retail shelves and advertising media across Asia.

6. Is there chemistry?

On a practical level you will want to see three to four successful case studies and be satisfied that the agency’s style of work is adaptable to your category and is not merely variations on a single theme. But go further; don’t sign a new agency until you’ve spoken with two or three current or previous clients to understand their experience. Visit the agencies. Meet the people.

7. Will you pitch or review?

Many agencies will resist a pitch scenario. They don’t like the competition and they don’t like the time and resource risk – or creative leakage – that pitching inevitably represents. For this reason, reviewing a shortlist of agencies can mean bringing some specialist players back as viable options. Try to make your decision so that even losing agencies remain strong advocates for your company.

Ultimately, advertising is an investment, and the ad agency relationship will need to be carefully managed to deliver the best return. Considering these questions will help you with the first step and align your new agency with your business. When you’ve selected an agency keep them close, involve them early and nurture them as an extension of your core team.

This constant two-way conversation and engagement, rather than the traditional Asian approach of one-way delegation, will help you to kick-start and optimise your results.


Thomas Brown Former Director, Strategy and Marketing CIM
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