Hiring an advertising agency is an art. No matter how scientific one is during a search process, there is always a significant degree of subjectivity associated with it. This is especially true when hiring a segment agency, where one may not be a subject matter expert.
During my marketing and advertising career, I have participated in hundreds of RFPs, either as a client or, currently, as an agency executive. What I’ve learned is that the process of finding a multicultural agency sometimes brings its own set of idiosyncrasies. If marketers don’t understand these particularities, they may engage with an agency that is not a good fit, and that can be an expensive mistake.
Below are a few learnings I compiled over the years, together with a few relevant questions that may help marketers during their search for a multicultural agency.
1 - Thought Leadership
A great multicultural creative agency starts with strong consumer insights capabilities. The reality, though, is that many agencies have de-prioritized their investments on talent and sources of data and insights.
As a consequence of this de-prioritization, I often see agencies presenting data as if they were consumer insights, or I hear the same old insights about multicultural segments from the ‘80s and ‘90s being “recycled” and served up again with a 2019 packaging.
The multicultural segment in America is changing before our eyes, and agencies need to not only keep up with those changes but ideally should also anticipate them.
- How big is the agency’s planning group compared to the creative and account services teams?
- How experienced are the most senior members of this team?
- What services and secondary research sources does the agency subscribe to?
- Do they have a proprietary thought leadership program?
- What kind of unique consumer insights did they offer to clients in the past twelve months?
2 - Business Consulting
Great multicultural agencies offer services to their clients above and beyond advertising. I have worked with clients whose scope of work for many months was mostly for launching a multicultural marketing initiative, including the development of a business case, assessment of the client’s current multicultural capabilities, and distribution footprint, among other areas.
This is not the type of service most creative agencies focus on. Still, several multicultural agencies have understood that if they don’t help their clients in figuring out their multicultural business strategies, they may not invest in multicultural business strategies at all. Hence, the need for agencies to develop a strong “business consulting” skillset.
We are not suggesting the consulting services that last years and costs millions of dollars (you know the type), but rather, a support that can help clients figure out strategies before even considering writing their first multicultural creative brief.
- Can they share 2-3 examples where the agency served as a business consultant to clients?
- Does the agency have a proprietary methodology that can help clients building their multicultural business plans?
3 - Cultural Upbringing
This one may sound obvious, but it is inconceivable how this is often overlooked during search processes. To be considered a cultural expert, the agency’s team needs to live the culture they sell. Usually, you are exposed to people who don’t consume the media they sell, and they don’t know the artists their team recommends, and they are not plugged into the culture they represent.
- What artists is your agency team listening to these days?
- What kind of entertainers and culture creators are shaping the culture in question in this country?
- How is the agency connected to trends in culture for your segment?
- What kind of culture creators are there inside the agency?
4 - Creative Excellence
Most prospects ask to review a creative reel to assess a multicultural agency’s creative strength, but very few engage in a dialogue with the agency’s leadership about their creative philosophy. Every great creative agency has a creative philosophy, a signature.
- How many ads did you produce in the past 12 months? How many were originally created by your agency vs. adapted from someone else’s concept?
- What are your production capabilities? Do you use your internal teams or freelancers?
- What kind of production capabilities do you have in-house?
- How do you find new directors?
As America experiences significant demographic change, clients will be required to adopt a new approach towards selecting their ad agencies. Looking for authentic multicultural elements that can distinguish creative shops, rather than just looking for a diversity of talent, will be the first step. After all, future sales growth will come mostly from the multicultural segments.