Starting Right with a Plan to Win


Part 1 of a 10 part series

(The right digital agency partner can make or break your organization’s online success. And yet, unless you’re extremely lucky, your partner will only be as good as the process by which you find and select them. In this 10-part series, we’ll share what we’ve learned from our clients about agency selection processes that lead to successful, enduring relationships.)

Engaging a new digital agency partner is usually a precursor to getting something done: replatforming your CMS, redesigning a site, or perhaps developing and launching something new. You certainly don’t want to hire an agency and have them sit idle for weeks or months. Momentum, not to mention your professional credibility, can dissipate very quickly.

Surprisingly, “hurry up… and wait” happens more often than you’d expect. Why?

Most commonly, it’s because someone—usually a well-intentioned someone—has moved too quickly and gotten too far ahead of their organization. The selection of a new agency—and their mandate to get something done—awakens the sleeping organization and signals that change is coming. Most organizations, of course, resist change.

These situations are fraught with risk, especially if there’s a lack of organizational buy-in or senior level support. Objections and dissent can break out like desert brushfires given the right conditions. Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter. You and your new agency can be stalled or even derailed before the ink’s dry on your contracting paperwork.

What’s the solution that our successful clients use? They plan to win by thinking about the end state, developing early alignment, and nurturing senior sponsorship.

  • End-state thinking: Have you thought through your business goals and what success will look like and mean? With thanks to author and consultant David Hobbs, ask yourself 4 important questions, and ensure your thinking is aligned with your stakeholders: (1) What’s important for the business?, (2) Big picture: do we know how to get there?, (3) Does everyone know the implications of the decisions being made?, and (4) Are we setting the organization up for long term success?
  • Alignment: Does your organization, both up and down your team and across functional groups, understand and support your vision and goals? Have you taken the time to understand and address their concerns? Is there commitment around your organization to success? Is everyone comfortable with the risks and tradeoffs you’re accepting?
  • Senior sponsorship: Do you have a senior level champion who supports your efforts and, ideally, will actually benefit from them? Are you in step with their priorities and working hard to keep them enthused? And are you using them to break down barriers and keep their peers on side?

Summing up, a successful agency selection process starts with a plan to win. Lacking a plan and the alignment and sponsorship that comes with it, your entire selection process is at risk of an embarrassing false start. And who’d want that?

We’ll be continuing this 10-part series over the coming weeks and months. If you’d like, please tell us what you’d personally put on your list of best practices for finding and selecting agency partners. We’ll incorporate the best of the best in our series and share credit with you for your contribution. Horror stories and happy anecdotes are particularly welcomed!

About the Author
James Gardner

James has been a marketing professional with leading organizations and their brands for over 15 years. Born in Toronto, he started his career with Procter & Gamble before earning his MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Since then, James has served CxO clients as a strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company and led numerous high-performing marketing teams. His B-to-C and B-to-B expertise ranges from corporate/marketing strategy and online marketing to strategic partnerships and business development. James lives in Brookline, MA with his wife and daughter.

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