20 Questions for a Creative Agency: What to Ask Before Hiring 

Finding a creative agency for your next marketing project is no game. That said, the process can still be interesting. You get to see inspiring ad campaigns, meet new people, and possibly learn more about your own industry and competitors along the way. 

Here’s a different kind of “20 questions” to “play” with potential creative agencies.   

20 Questions for a Creative Agency: What to Ask Before Hiring:

Key Questions to Ask a Creative Agency

Essential Questions to Pose to a Creative Agency

1. Who is your typical client?

This question can be a nice ice breaker. Basically, you want to find out if they’ve worked with similarly sized businesses before.  

If you’re a larger company, this will help you to determine if they have the bandwidth to handle your account. 

If you’re a smaller business, you’ll want to find an agency that has experience working with small businesses but at the same time has the capabilities to work with an enterprise client. Ideally, the company should be able to grow with you. After all, you’re investing in advertising campaigns to grow, right?

2. Have you worked with clients in my industry before?

This is one of the most important questions to ask potential creative agencies and can be a good follow-up question to the previous one. The agency should have knowledge about your field, its typical target market, and jargon. 

If yes, you can also introduce a further follow-up question to find out if they’ve worked with any of your direct competitors. In some cases, it can introduce a conflict of interest which should be identified sooner than later. 

If the agency has no experience in your industry, you can inquire if they would feel comfortable to work with a business in your niche. While it’s not ideal that the agency has no prior industry experience, for less technical and regulated industries, like fashion, they can still be a candidate. However, they’ll need to be willing to learn about your industry before the project kicks off. 

3. What are your main expertise?

It might be an obvious question, but a critical one nonetheless. Creative agencies typically focus on four key areas: consulting, design, advertising, and digital. The goal of this question isn’t necessarily to find out the wide range of marketing services that they offer, but rather to narrow it down to those areas that they’re strongest at. 

For some, this will be branding services. For others, it will be creating short-from content like TikTok ads or social posts. 

However, guard against companies that claim to do it all. Sure, there are many great full-service digital marketing agencies (and depending on your needs it can make more sense to work with one), but the agency should still be able to identify which services they focus on mostly. 

4. How big is your in-house team?

While it’s important to know how many in-house team members an agency has, it’s not a case of the bigger the better. Sure, large agencies have access to more talent, but smaller agencies can often offer a more personal approach. 

That said, it’s still important to know how many employees they have as they remain one of the biggest resources available to you. 

You can also take it one step further and ask how many employees share specific expertise. For example, how big is the graphic design department? Or, how many employees work on strategy? 

Unless the agency concentrates on a specific discipline like branding, you’ll want to ensure that there’s a fairly even split. A skewed divide can lead to delays.  

You’ll also want to distinguish between full-time employees and independent contractors (hence, why it’s important to ask specifically about their in-house team). 

5. Do you outsource work to other agencies or freelancers?

Relying on freelancers or even other digital marketing agencies is common practice among creative agencies. Though, if you pick up that quite a big chunk of the work is entrusted to other vendors, it could create potential issues. 

It’s more challenging to ensure the same high-level of quality and keep independent contractors accountable. Plus, it can work out more expensive, especially if you’re working on a long-term project, ultimately impacting your budget. 

Agencies typically only turn to third-party service providers for specialist tasks like video production. If a core service like digital strategy is not completed by their in-house team, proceed cautiously.  

6. Which tools do you use for planning and research?

Digital tools like apps and software solutions are another major resource. Even big agencies need to entrust some processes to tools. 

Research and planning, in particular, rely heavily on data. You need to consider various factors like target audience demographics, keywords, platform algorithms, etc. Even aspects like project management and communication can be improved with tools. For example, a number of digital marketing agencies create a Slack channel to streamline communication. 

Aside from empowering their team to make better data-driven decisions, tools can also speed up processes. That said, not everything should be automated. 

They’ll need to use more than spreadsheets and their spidey senses, but also know when to listen to their gut feeling. The best approach combines tech with human skill.  

You can also ask if they use proprietary tools. It’s not uncommon for marketing agencies to develop their own software and with the AI explosion that’s become a whole lot easier. 

7. What is your unique selling proposition?

Whether it’s that they’ve completely niched down or they use proprietary tools, they need to know what sets them apart from other creative agencies. After all, if they don’t know how to differentiate themselves, how will they be able to help you do that?

Basically, the answer should make it clear that they value innovation. 

8. How would you describe your workplace culture?

Workplace culture is gaining more attention in the media and rightfully so. A positive culture will keep the team motivated which in return will have a positive impact on productivity. 

Aside from the impact on their own employees, workplace culture can also predict the shape of your future interactions with them. 

Keep your own preferences in mind. 

Do you prefer a more formal environment or are you fine to be greeted by the office dog?

9. Which values drive your agency?

What motivates the agency’s team to keep on going? There are no right answers here. What matters is that there are similarities between your brand’s core values and that of the agency. 

10. Do you have enough capacity to take on my project?

This question is especially important if you plan on working with a smaller agency. 

You don’t want to get the impression that they’re doing you a favor by squeezing in your project. If an agency’s workload percentage nears full capacity, quality can suffer and deadlines pushed.  

11. How does your fee structure work?

Transparency is critical. This doesn’t mean that they need to disclose their rates on their website (few do). However, when asked about it, they need to give you a straight answer. 

Ideally, you should be kept in loop about fees paid to vendors working on your project too. 

Also, make sure that you specifically ask how deadlines will impact their pricing. If you have an extra request with a short turnaround will you have to pay more? Charging a rush fee isn’t unusual. Though, it’s always good to know in advance which extra fees will apply so that you can plan accordingly. 

12. What’s your average time frame for projects?

To help you with your own planning, it’s essential to know how long you’ll need to wait before they complete your project. Aside from that, it can also give you an idea about their capabilities and capacity. 

For example, if they assured you that they have enough capacity to take on a new client, but their timeline is a lot longer compared to other agencies, this might not be the case. 

Long timelines can also indicate a lack of experience. 

13. How long before I can expect to see results?

Vague timelines and immediate results are two red flags. There’s no definite rule about how long it should take, but the agency should be able to give an indication at the very least. 

14. Which metrics do you use to measure success?

There are various key performance indicators (KPIs) that an agency can use to measure success. 

Examples of popular KPIs used include:

You’re searching for an agency that uses metrics that align with your goals and can adjust their approach to measuring success to your business. 

15. Do you have any case studies or client references?

To evaluate if the information they provide during the interview aligns with their actual practices, you’ll need to refer to client testimonials and examples of their work. 

Look at actual campaigns that they’ve completed recently. Have they generated the type of results and within the period that they’ve promised they could deliver for you? Most creative agencies share case studies on their website that dig deeper into specific campaigns. 

Reading client testimonials will give you a better idea about what the actual working experience was like. To give the company a fair evaluation, read past online reviews as well as the most recent ones. Even better yet if you can contact one of their current clients directly.

16. Can you share details about a campaign that was unsuccessful?

No agency is perfect. While they’ll probably exclude case studies about campaigns that didn’t deliver great results, they should be comfortable to share details about failures when asked directly. 

The idea behind asking this question is to see if the team adopts a culture of continuous learning. They should be able to tell you what they’ve learned from mistakes and how they’ve changed their process to prevent a similar result.

This question can also give you some insight into their level of professionalism. Do they immediately shift the blame to the client? Was the client too demanding? Do they blame it on receiving a vague brief?

You’re searching for a creative agency that can own up to their mistakes and admit shortcomings instead of throwing a third party under the bus. 

17. Who will be my contact person?

Client communication is a deal-breaker. It’s common practice that agencies assign a dedicated account manager to each client. 

If your account will be entrusted to a dedicated team member, be sure to ask how many accounts each account manager handles on average. Having a dedicated go-to person is definitely a value-added service, but if you're one of dozens of accounts sharing the same individual you can expect far less attention. 

In short, you want to know that the person in charge of your account will have the capacity to respond to any problems quickly. 

18. How often will I receive communication?

This is one of the biggest questions to ask. Regular communication is essential.

You specifically want to find out about how often you’ll receive updates. Being sent their weekly email newsletter won’t be of much value to your immediate marketing campaign. For digital marketing to be effective, the performance of campaigns should be tracked and analyzed and you’ll want your advertising agency to keep you in the loop. 

19. What are the terms of agreement?

Sure, Ts and Cs are something that you’ll sort out when you sign a formal contract. However, there are a few things that you’ll want to clarify before you reach this final stage. These include:

  • If they have a cancellation policy
  • Which media and assets you’ll own
  • Your responsibilities as a client

20. Do you have any questions about the project or our company?

During the Q&A session, the agency most likely will also direct a few questions at you. If not, specifically ask them before you wrap it up if they would like to ask you any questions. 

Use this as an opportunity to gauge their interest in your business and its challenge. They should be excited about working with you. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

After you’ve sat down with a potential creative agency, you can use the following guidelines to figure out if you should hire them:

1. Why do I want to hire a creative agency?

Before you can find a digital agency, you first need to know why you need it in the first place. In other words, what are your goals and needs?

Do you need a marketing strategy?

Do you want to develop a new product?

Do you want to reach a new market audience?

Without having a solid idea of why you need an agency, you can end up with the wrong one. Perhaps you discover that with better project management your own in-house marketing team will be more than qualified. 

2. Do they have the expertise to solve your problem?

Let’s say your goal is to create marketing videos. Is video marketing something that they can complete? Do they have content writers experienced at writing video scripts?

If they have to outsource video production to another team, you might as well work with another agency. 

3. Can you relate to their culture?

Based on some of these questions and your interactions with a prospective agency, you would’ve gotten a feel for their culture. Do their core values align with your own? Can you relate to their style of doing business?

For example, if diversity is one of your key values, do they share the same sentiment? In fact, in some cases it can even be damaging to your brand if your marketing partner’s ethos contradicts what you stand for. What would it say about your brand’s integrity if you’re vocal about promoting diversity yet your marketing team lacks it?

Key Takeaways

This list of questions is by no means exhaustive. In the same breath, you don’t need to ask all of them or in the exact order as they appear. 

Let the answer to the previous question guide you as to what you should ask next. 

Basically, you want to find out about:

  • Expertise and experience
  • Approach and culture
  • Past projects
  • Cost and timelines

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you choose a creative agency?

To help you find the best-fit agency, use the following steps:

  • List your needs and business objectives
  • Work out how much you can afford to spend on creative services
  • Do some preliminary research to create a shortlist
  • Evaluate the previous work of prospective agencies
  • Compile a set of questions and arrange a meeting with shortlisted candidates
  • Invite up to five agencies to pitch 

    Which are some of the best creative agencies in the UK?

    According to sources across the web, the following are some of the top creative agencies based in the UK:

    • Bartle Bogle Hegarty (aka BBH)
    • Kota
    • Our Own Brand
    • ikon
    • Dunclyde
    • Burst Digital
    • Make Us Care
    • Rhapsody Media

      Which are some of the best creative agencies in the USA?

      According to sources across the web, the following are some of the top creative agencies with offices in the USA:

      • Burst Digital
      • Jacob Tyler
      • Dunclyde
      • ThreeSixtyEight
      • Rule29
      • Column Five Media
      • MiresBall
      • Rooted Creative Agency

        Which qualities should a creative agency have?

        When you’re interviewing a creative agency, double-check that their team has the following qualities and expertise:

        • Relevant industry experience
        • Up-to-date knowledge of industry trends
        • A proven track record with enough client testimonials, online reviews, and case studies to back it up
        • A portfolio with high-quality work
        About the Author
        Koba Molenaar brings nearly a decade of rich experience in content writing, specializing in digital marketing, branding, SaaS, and eCommerce. Her passion for helping brands, from solopreneurs to established companies, connect with their audiences shines through her work. As a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society, Koba’s commitment to excellence is evident in her work, showcasing her as a relatable and knowledgeable voice in the industry.