4 Questions CMOs Should Ask Their Next Agency Partner

Finding a solid match is essential, especially during a recession


From declining sales to increased competition and consolidation, some of the world’s biggest brands right now are on the hunt for new agency partners.

Cutting across industries and ranging from Bud Light to HBO Max, Starz, Hanes and Red Lobster, CMOs are under tremendous pressure to make the right decision. This is especially important as they prepare for a possible recession and the effects of inflation on consumer spending.

Finding a solid match is essential, but spotting a collaborative partner with strong capabilities is easier said than done. What’s the most effective way to know if your agency is the right partner?

A checklist of stability and strong work

Consider asking these four questions.

How do you measure success?

Particularly during a recession, you want an agency that’s driven by client success. Knowing that great creative is always the expectation, look for agencies that seek to understand how the brand would measure success.

Whether the goal is an award-winning creative, increased brand engagement or a spike in sales, an agency needs to be results-oriented. This will help capture and track the effectiveness of the work and take that back to the boardroom to justify budget.

Agencies that make the brand’s goals their top priority are more likely to deliver strategic work that drives the business forward, regardless of economic conditions.

Have you helped clients recover from a downturn before?

Recessions and the unpredictable changes to consumer behavior that come with them are something agencies have to experience firsthand to fully understand. If your brand goes through a challenging financial period, it’s key to bring in a partner that has experience bringing brands to the upside. Ask for examples of clients they’ve helped navigate through downturns.

Agencies with financial services clients from the last recession or travel clients from the pandemic are bound to have some valuable case studies. Ask about the long-term plans that they developed that helped clients not only recover but reinvent themselves.

If there is an agency in consideration that doesn’t have this experience, don’t panic. Ask about what kind of research they’re doing to anticipate how the next year is likely to impact your business and customers, or how they helped their clients manage the effects of the pandemic.

How can the agency’s offerings help expand a campaign?

Efficiencies are key during a recession when brands are looking for the most bang for their marketing buck. Agencies with a wide range of capabilities across creative, media and production allow access to more services within one engagement. There is also the benefit of increased fluency and collaboration among internal teams.

Purely creative or purely media agencies might be the right match if there is a really targeted objective in mind. Be sure, however, to learn more about their go-to partners and how other clients have successfully leveraged their third-party relationships to scale up campaigns.

What hybrid work policies have you implemented?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but hybrid flexibility is actually a great proxy for talent right now. Competition for top talent is higher than ever, and it’s important to find an agency that’s completely updated its approach to work and talent.

Agencies that offer flexibility, remote work policies and hybrid-enabled offices are more likely to attract top talent. Plus, they’re more likely to hold onto the talent they have.

This doesn’t mean the agency has to be 100% remote or even 24/7 hybrid, but they should have policies in place that give people the mental or physical space they need to create their best work, reducing traditional burnout and turnover.

The bottom line

With advertising budgets reaching upward of $100 million, the stakes are high for CMOs trying to find the right agency to help them navigate an uncertain landscape. Find a partner that’s focused on your goals, is ready to help endure a downturn, has adaptable capabilities and a competitive approach to talent. You can’t go wrong.