I would absolutely want to spend time with senior management and look closely at work and previous client relationships. But mostly I would want to go behind the scenes and discover the depth of the organizational intelligence and culture.
So, here's an incredibly subjective checklist that I would use to get inside the world of an agency and find out what's image and what's substance.
- I'd meet with the most junior account person who would be assigned to my account and ask him to explain how he'd launch a new relationship and to explain the account process. Just for fun, I'd ask him to describe the analytics that would be used to measure my work.
- Beyond looking at the agency website, I would explore how the agency and its senior management are using social media channels. Do they have content on YouTube? What are they doing with Facebook and other communities? How are they using web-based video? I doubt any agency not using these tools for themselves could create truly innovative programs.
- I'd pretend I was a courier and see what kind of greeting I got at the front desk. Do they respect people in general, or just suck up to clients?
- I'd peek into some war rooms and look at work in progress. No matter how rough the thinking, do they innovate, or do they imitate? Are all the ideas on paper, or are teams prototyping banner ads and other online assets?
- To check for alignment at the top, I'd meet with all the partners together. On what do they agree? How do they manage their differences? Do they like each other?
- I'd really like to spend time with some of the behind-the-scene folks like production managers, studio people, and developers that don't get a lot of client exposure. I'd talk to them about workload and resources and systems they have in place to grow.
- How is the physical space laid out? Are there lots of spaces for collaboration? How well integrated is the senior team into the flow of the agency. Are developers hanging out with creative teams? What kind of work is displayed in the private areas of the agency?
- I'd ask about the technology that the agency uses to interact with clients. How well do they communicate remotely? What tools do they have for sharing work?
- I'd check out the agency library. How broad are their interests? Do they follow my industry? Do they have the depth to spot market and business trends that can help build a leadership position.
- I'd look in the refrigerator to make sure that everyone is eating healthy snacks. If I found some Diet Dr Pepper, I'd probably hire the agency on the spot.