Q: I've recently been promoted to the position of marketing director and have been given the challenge of hiring a new marketing firm. Our last firm left a bad taste in the mouth of our president. What steps can I take to make sure this doesn't happen again?
Few decisions affect the success of an organization as much as the selection of a communications firm. Before beginning the process, let your bank's leadership know the process will take six to eight weeks. Opportunities lost during the time it takes to find the right communications partner pale in comparison to the cost in time and money if you rush into a bad decision.
Start by developing a list of current and future needs to determine the qualifications your agency needs. This list will guide you in answering the first question in the process: Do you need a big firm that can do everything or a smaller one that specializes in certain services? Next, take the following steps.
Create a selection committee. Sometimes, it's quickest and easiest if one person plans and conducts the search. Given you are new to the position and the bank has had a less than positive previous experience, a selection committee is the best way to proceed. Select no more than four other people for the committee.
Narrow the field. It's essential to keep the field of firms to a manageable size. Start by seeking recommendations from colleagues, the ABA and other organizations. Try to identify no more than a dozen firms. Then narrow the list to three to five "contenders" by visiting websites, conducting phone interviews and reviewing their marketing materials. If you have an incumbent agency include them in the review.
Establish a set of criteria and questions in advance to ensure that comparisons between agencies are consistent throughout the process.
Request proposals. Notify each agency you spoke with whether or not they have been selected as "contenders." Then provide each finalist with: basic information about your bank; marketing goals; range of services required; budget parameters; deadline for response; an individual contact for questions; and, the number of proposal copies needed (counting one for each selection committee member).
Resist the urge to keep budget information confidential. Sharing the budget allows the agency to build a realistic proposal and makes it easier to compare what each agency will provide for your dollar.