An insider’s look at best practices, tips, and how to tell if your new project and communications agency are off to the right start.

Finding the right communications agency to begin your new project can be tough. As you are deciding on an agency (or beginning to work with one), how will you know the work is off to a strong start? All client projects are unique, but the process behind them should not be. Successful agencies have an established, well “tried and true” approach to executing client projects from (before) start through (after) completion.

Here’s a look at some best practices you should see when beginning your new project with a communications agency.

  1. Are they asking questions?

    You might know your project, audience, goals, etc. like the back of your hand, but unless your agency specializes in your area or has worked with you before, they likely don’t. The agency you begin working with should be asking questions. It helps establish background and context, and it shows your agency team is thoughtful, engaged, and actively connecting the dots between your specific needs and possible solutions.

  1. Will your agency use research to guide the project?

    Qualitative and quantitative. And lots of it. For many people, research induces a cringe and resurrects bad memories of high school projects gone awry. But for marketers and communicators, research is our bedrock. Research uses fact-based data along with subjective, first-hand insights to

  • Give us a panoramic view of the situation;
  • Help us understand and reach our target audience(s);
  • And offer clues to existing and/or perceived barriers and opportunities.
  1. Your agency should be utilizing initial research and, as much as feasible, testing throughout the project development, to qualify efforts and lead to work that best resonates with your audience(s) and aligns with your goals.
  1. How will you measure success?

    What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want to garner? Whether it’s awareness, click-throughs, social media page likes, enrollments, sales, or any combination thereof, measurement is the tool that is going to keep the project on track. It will lead the development of the project, be monitored and optimized after launch, and provide post-campaign analytics to quantify results and impact.

    The good news: technology has put such diverse data at our fingertips, we can access metrics ranging from as broad as overall impressions to as granular as micro and macro conversions – and most everything in between. Depending on the scope of the project, your agency at the very least should outline KPI’s, and for more complex projects, there should be a measurement plan set forth from the beginning.

    Here are some tips for developing a digital measurement plan.

  1. What does the project kick-off look like?

    Every project should begin with an outline and understanding of the situation and challenge at hand. (For example, at RDW we utilize a 17-question Engagement Brief.) The document (in whatever form it might take) should be drafted by your agency and shared with you for your review and approval. In my own experience, this has been a critical tool, as it:

  • Ensures your agency’s understandings of the project, goals, and supporting details are the same as yours;
  • Catches any variance in data or lost details;
  • And, equally important, showcases to you that yes, your agency was listening to you, they understand, and they have your back.
  1. Upon mutual approval, the document should then be provided to every team member who works on the project, guiding the approach and messaging from concept to publication.

    Inclusive project kick-offs build confidence in both parties. Your agency might not kick-off your project with a brief, but you should feel some indication that they have a strong, comprehensive grasp of the project and outcomes at hand.

  1. Who’s keeping time? And status?

    Time has an unquenchable habit of sneaking up on us. The best way to keep it (somewhat) tamed is through a timeline and/or status report. This ensures both you and your agency know who is responsible for what components of the project and the due dates for each step of the way. It will also help you to coordinate meetings and multi-stakeholder approvals ahead of time.

    For shorter projects with a defined start and end date, a simple but detailed timeline including actions, owners, and due dates will serve as a guide to daily operations. For longer or more open-ended projects, your agency should develop a status report outlining the project(s), deliverables, owners, and timeline. This document will keep an organized account of all activities and can serve as an agenda for regularly scheduled agency-client check-ins.

Following the beginning of your new project, there will be plenty of other touch-points between you and your communications agency. Not the least of which will include creative concepting, a campaign plan, and roll-out, measurement sharing, and regularly scheduled check-ins. But certainly, you will get a clear sense of your agency’s work and approach through these initial project interactions.

If you feel your agency embodies these best practices, that’s great! If not, you still have options: offer your own suggestions to begin the project, or point to other successful approaches you (or your colleagues) have been a part of and that can be used as a model. In the end, however, not every agency will be the right fit for your organization or project. Don’t be afraid to find the one that is!