A recent Feature Friday episode covered tips for brands who are selecting an experiential marketing agency (see video above). This article expands on each tip, so brands are confident when choosing the best experiential marketing partner.

1. Review the agency’s portfolio of work.
When you’re selecting an experiential marketing agency, the first thing you’re going to want to do is check out their previous work. When you’re looking through their portfolio, take note of types of activations they’ve executed and the client industries. Knowing that they have previous experience running campaigns you’re most interested in and working with similar brands will give you confidence that they might be a good fit.

(You can see our work here.)

2. Ask for references.
Any time you’re vetting companies to work with – whether it’s an agency or you need a new HVAC system – asking for references is a great idea. When you have a previous or current client of theirs on the phone, understand their relationship with the partner beyond their satisfaction of projects completed. Open-ended questions allow for greater dialogue and understanding. A few sample questions to ask include:

  • How would you describe the communication style of your account manager?
  • Did the agency understand your marketing objectives, and were their recommendations strategic?
  • What was their response time to questions and requests?
  • How did the agency make you feel throughout your collaborations?
  • Explain how the experiential marketing campaign the agency ran with you affected your business?
  • What would you tell me about the agency as I vet them for a potential partnership?

Until you connect with a reference, check for testimonials and any social reviews they may have publicly available.

3. Understand the agency’s specialties.
Agencies with too broad of offerings may not have the same level of expertise or commitment to experiential marketing. Yet, agencies who claim to be brand activation shops may not have the strategy and integration know-how that you need.

Plus, consider their core capabilities. If you’re looking for a mobile tour, pop-up or sampling activation, and all you see are large festivals and high profile concerts in their portfolio, you may want to keep searching.

4. Talk about strategy.
Get to know how they use data insights, market research and consumer behaviors to shape their experiential concepts. Understand how the agency thinks. Do they consider your challenges and objectives? Do they offer customized approaches? A well-executed brand experience is rooted in marketing strategy.

Many production companies or vendors pushing a core asset you’d like to use may offer turnkey services, such as staffing and scheduling. But they likely won’t be able to identify any gaps in the messaging, delivery or measurement beforehand, setting you up for unsatisfying or hard-to-calculate results.

Each experiential marketing shop should have a process they try to adhere to when collaborating with a new client partner. Review their processes to make sure you agree with the road they’ll be leading you down. (Here’s our approach to experiential marketing.)

5. Is the agency pitching before understanding?
Big, flashy ideas are great. Never-before-executed concepts are innovative. Fancy mock-ups and consumer journeys are exciting.

But only if they work.

Big idea firms can be pretty persuasive, too. However, if they’re not first asking questions and understanding your positioning, they might be putting on a show instead of a marketing campaign. Yes, experiential marketing is entertaining. Activations become buzz-worthy live events. They make a splash!

But you also want the experience to generate loyalists who understand your core brand.

If a new agency prospect isn’t delving into brand discovery before they pitch you, there’s something amiss. (You’ve been fair warned.) It’s good to share the experiences someone may have with your brand at every touchpoint, so the experiential marketing agency has a better picture of your brand authenticity.

6. Ask about integration.
Even if the experiential marketing agency isn’t offering other ad services to you, they should understand how your entire marketing mix is driving awareness and perception. They should be asking you for your ad copy and what channels you’re using, so they can integrate the brand experience accordingly. They’ll likely want to discuss how other channels can support the experience, and vice versa.

Experiential marketing, while specialized, shouldn’t be siloed completely apart from the other marketing disciplines in your overall plan. As marketers, we know that an integrated approach delivers stronger results. Brand experiences are not excluded.

7. Know their in-house work v. outsourced work.
Full transparency is key when selecting an experiential marketing agency. If they are a specialty shop, they may not have all the supporting media assets on-hand for a customized campaign. That shouldn’t deter you necessarily from choosing them, but they need to be open about what they can deliver in-house – and what they can’t. Ask these types of questions as you vet the prospective partner.

8. Are they willing to collaborate with your other partners?
Your brand experience relies on collaboration across agencies, departments, teams and channels. If they’re willing to join you and your other agencies for a collaborative discussion, that’s a good sign. They value the brand work and media planning that’s taking place elsewhere. The experience will reinforce the others’ work, and the experience will also provide ammunition for the other teams’ to use to promote your brand. It’s important to know all decision-makers are on the same page and delivering consistent, cohesive brand messages.

9. Ask how they evaluate their work.
A report with total number of swag items slung during an activation might be nice to have – but it certainly doesn’t tell you the full story. Ask to see a sample experiential marketing report, and how they’ll evaluate the success of a campaign. Ask what type of data insights you’ll gain from the activation, and how they would recommend applying those insights for future marketing purposes.

Each campaign will deliver a set of unique key performance indicators, of course. You should agree with the KPIs they’ll be able to track before you partner up. The campaign will need to be measured and tracked in terms of ROI for you, so this should always be discussed upfront.

It’s also a good sign if they ask you how you’ll be measuring experiential marketing on your side. We certainly appreciate when we can collaborate with a brand on tracking long-term growth, such as new customer acquisitions, lifts in brand awareness, changes in perception or increases in lifetime customer value.

The true value of experiential marketing continues to grow over time, rather than immediately with a post-campaign report.

10. Don’t forget the chemistry factor.
Do sparks fly? It’s a valid question. You will want to collaborate with a team who not only delivers successful marketing campaigns but who has chemistry with your team. If you can’t see yourself working alongside them, don’t. Selecting an experiential marketing agency is the first step in a long-term relationship. One that feels like a trusted friendship. It’s about listening to your gut as much as it is making a rational decision.

If you’d like to explore if dio is a good fit for you, just say hello to get the vetting process started.