July 25, 2017

Agency Shopping: The Tinder Way

It started with a snicker from the desk next to me. My 30-something colleague Rachel was having a good chuckle at the expense of a friend’s latest foray into the world of online dating.

Her friend, who goes by the handle “Tall Suzanne” (because, you know, she’s like really tall) shared a screen shot with Rachel and asked her the classic question, “Is it me?”

Tall Suzanne is by all means a catch. She’s smart, funny, beautiful and intriguingly precocious. But she’s grown a little frustrated with the online dating world because she keeps juggling her need to be very upfront about her requirement to date a taller gentleman…with the need to not scare anyone off due to her directness.

The screen shot depicted Tall Suzanne’s first feeler to a Tinder prospect that we’ll call “Rock Climbing Guy.” Along with the “his and her” profile pics, the exchange went like this:

Tall Suzanne: Hi. How tall are you?
Rock Climbing Guy: ???

Tall Suzanne tried again with another prospect, “Cowboy Dan” who, judging by his own handle, appeared to have an amazing sense of humor.

Tall Suzanne: Hello. How tall are you?
Cowboy Dan: Umm…okay. How much do you weigh?

The awkwardness spiraled downward from there…but you get the idea.

In a way, health care marketers should empathize with Tall Suzanne.

Maybe you’ve been given the green light to find a friend out here in the wild jungle of advertising, marketing and communications. You’re probably excited to build a relationship with someone who appreciates and understands your craft.

Then you start Googling or asking colleagues…and it would be understandable if your excitement waned. There seem to be thousands of choices to make if you hope to find the appropriate partner—and you can’t tell who’s selling snake oil, who’s legit and who’s just plain crazy.

At the same time, how you present yourself as a prospective client is also influencing your future. The earliest days of any long-term relationship are shaped by the first few interactions.

In many ways, it’s not unlike modern dating. Technology gives us access to more options and gives us a lot of detail about each option. The information becomes such a torrent that it’s hard to thin the herd of candidates in order to even begin to find that special someone.

So how do we use the modern dating paradigm to find the right agency? Well, this old married guy sat down with a few young and hip singles to see how the dating world can help marketers find a professional mate.

Choosing this type of partner is crucial and requires an in-depth search of which the intricacies involved can’t be covered in one blog post. However, the tips below could be used to provide you with some tools to thin that herd. They might help you feel like you are choosing from three eligible bachelors with the help of Chuck Woolery rather than choosing from literally everyone who has “advertising” in their SEO tags.

Ready to start swiping?

(For you fellow old codgers, in the Tinder dating app you swipe the image of your wannabe suitor to the left to discard them and you swipe right in order to keep them in your pool of potential matches.)

Here are the crucial reminders and questions you need to apply to your quest to live happily ever after with your agency:


“In the online dating world, it’s easy to see who is going through the motions and presenting info that you expect to hear. So many profiles are carbon copies of each other.”

Your agency should be very clear on what they specialize in, what type of organization they are and who they want to be. In the dating world and in the agency world, it’s a red flag if you’re not sure of who they are or what makes them different. Give special consideration to firms that have a unique niche or point-of-view. If they don’t clearly know who they are or can’t articulate that, they’ll have trouble being honest with you about what they are capable of…and that could spell big trouble down the road as you get into strategy and production.


“I understand not mentioning your full–blown OCD on the first date. But you gotta put stuff out there pretty quickly so you know what you are getting into.”

You know your organization has problems because every organization has them—especially in health care. If your CEO is a micromanaging, literalist, we need to know. If your Chief Medical Officer hates marketing…please do tell.  If your competitor is about to unleash a major new market-disrupting offering, let’s talk about that before we have our first strategy session. The quicker your agency knows who you really are, the faster and more effectively they can help you.


“When they are obviously just waiting to talk rather than listening to learn about my life, I’m seriously tempted to just leave the restaurant mid-conversation.”

In those initial conversations, your prospective agency will want to tell you about their organization. They might want to talk about their unique process or special talent on their team. As a CMO with nothing but pressure to deliver volume, you might be tempted to tune out and “get to the point.” This is often a mistake, because while much of this info is admittedly a hard sales technique, the agency is also telling you what they value and how they feel they work best. And you should really care about that.

Perhaps more importantly, some agencies might be using this type of material to gauge how sophisticated you are. If you don’t appear to be engaged in the nitty-gritty of how they work, they may not take you as a client or they may dumb down their work because they mistakenly believe you aren’t sophisticated enough to value or implement it.

He’s the guy that wanted to take you to the opera but took you to the movies after your first chat. Don’t miss out because you accidently sold yourself short.


“If he’s good at making me laugh then I know there’s a good chance he can laugh at himself. And the older I get the more I value those sorts of things.”

Whether in their online presence or in initial phone calls or meetings it’s vital that you feel like your agency partner will be enjoyable to work with. Do they have a good sense of humor? Are they able to be self-deprecating? These types of traits are proven to indicate several key attributes that strong agencies share. When people are funny it means they are acute listeners, understand empathy and are capable of very experimental and daring ideas.


“I dated a guy for two months and was head over heels. Then his ex-wife keyed my car and threatened me at Starbucks. It wasn’t his fault but it pretty much ended things.”

If you have had terrible agency experiences, then tell your new date. It helps them understand your pain points and what you need. Of course, they can reciprocate by sharing some of their worst client stories. In both cases, keep it classy and don’t drop the names of the offenders.


“Why do stalkers seem so desperate? Because they are.”

With your brand (and some respects your career) on the line, you should find someone who is obviously willing to court you rather than just find the nearest cheap motel.

Keep initial conversations casual and loose to let the discussion flow where it needs to. Agencies who push intensive pitches and contracts out of the gate are just plain rude, desperate or both. Remember, this is your first few dates. If they are this obnoxious this early, they’ll only get worse once they are married and comfortable with you.


“Okay, I’ll admit it. I was convinced her dad could get me a job. And that extended the relationship more than I’d care to admit. Hey, you’re not going to use my name, are you?”

This is the counterweight to the prior point above. We know you just might be curious. You might even use your prospective agency as an unpaid consultant here and there. We understand there is always some give and take involved with getting to know each other. However, if you make an agency jump through a million hoops and really (for one reason or another) had no intention of hiring them, most agencies will spot it. And many will then proceed to tell their contacts across the industry about you.

Your prospective agency needs to know how serious you are so they know what to show you. If you are at a very initial phase and can’t make a commitment in the next six months, then be straightforward about it. A good agency will understand the value of long-term courting and appreciate your honesty. And when you do work together, you’ll already be starting from a position of mutual respect. And whether you are dating or marketing, mutual respect is a crucial element of any relationship.

You can just ask Tall Suzanne. And as long as you’re at least six-feet tall, she might even reply to you.