Three big questions to guide your search for a communications consultant
There are a lot of communications agencies and consultants out there. Finding the right one to fit the needs of your organization can be a challenge. You can make an informed decision about what firm would be the right fit if you do some thoughtful vetting.
Every year we take some time to review the websites, social media accounts, and other communications activities from some of our peers. Conducting a regular landscape scan is a good practice for any organization. Between that scan and the questions that commonly come up in our conversations with prospects, here are some questions you can use when looking for the right agency for your communications needs.
Are they a good fit?
Finding a good agency can be a bit like finding a good partner or building a new friendship; it’s always a good idea to do a little research before you make any deep commitments. Making sure the consultant you ultimately choose is a good fit for your organization’s needs is an important part of the vetting process. Knowing ahead of time the likelihood of a symbiotic relationship or “good chemistry” can create enthusiasm from key staff and stakeholders making buy-in around your firm of choice seem like an obvious one.
Here are four steps you can take to evaluate if the firm is a good fit for you:
- Review its website and social media. Take a look at the firm’s website and recent posts on its social media channels to get a sense of who they are. Look at case studies to understand the depth and results of their work. Review the list of clients they have worked with to see if they have experience in your issue area (or with nonprofits in general). If they have a blog, podcast, or are active on social media, dig in to get a sense of how they think. Do their approach, ideas, and personality match what you are looking for?
- Schedule a call or Zoom meeting. Get time on the calendar to speak to someone at the firm to learn more. Explain who you are, what you are looking for (deliverables), your timing, and the ballpark budget (more on that below). Ask them who they are, what they do, how they’ve solved similar challenges, etc.
- Know who you will be working with. Consider issuing an RFP, or just a clear summary of your desired outcomes, and be selective about who you send it to. Ask for the names, roles, and qualifications of the team you will be working with. You might even ask for references so you can speak to previous clients about the quality of the work and the relationship overall. There are several resources and guides available. Familiarize yourself with them to make sure you create an effective RFP.
- Explore the services they offer. You want to choose a firm that offers the services you need to complete your scope of work. You can confirm this by contacting the firm directly or looking at their website.
What is their approach?
Understanding how a firm approaches a particular scope of work gives you a better chance to get the results you are looking for.
Take into account:
- The vibe. Go big or go small? That is the question. Big agencies have that flair and may offer all the services you need and more, but who will do the work on your project? Are they friendly and accessible or might they be cold and hard to reach? Small agencies may be more niche or limited on what they deliver, and you’ll likely get to know your team and feel special. Smaller agencies may also be able to maximize your budget in more creative ways.
- Previous work or case studies. Most firms highlight their services through case studies on their site. This helps determine what kind of results are accomplished. Research previous work this way or if you have issued an RFP, make this part of the requirements when submitting a proposal. And as you evaluate a firm, request a presentation where you can review the journey of the work–not just the finished product.
- Values. Examine what principles and beliefs drive the firm(s) you are considering. Do they align with your organization’s values? Are they prioritizing and integrating diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and antiracism in ways that might be a match or complement your team’s culture? How can you learn and grow together?
What are their fees?
Knowing is everything. Never be shy to talk about the budget. This gives the potential firm a chance to be transparent and make sure that any emails, conversations, and proposals are a good investment of everyone’s time.
It’s always helpful to:
- Share your budget range either in your RFP or a call with the potential firms(s). Whether your budget is large or small, allowing firms to have a clear picture of what is allocated to the project will help in assessing a good fit and designing the right scope of work.
- Understand how fees are structured. Do they have a flat fee or do they charge a fixed hourly rate? Do they bill monthly or based on deliverables? Knowing how they track time or project progress, and where overages can occur, will help you determine how a given approach to your scope of work fits into your organization’s budget and cash flow.
These are just a few things to consider when choosing the right firm to work with. Should Big Duck be on your list, we are always game to chat. As you go about evaluating your options, make the journey fun. Good luck!