Agency Search: the chemistry process and ten key questions to ask

TrinityP3 UK is a founder signatory of the Pitch Positive Pledge launched jointly by the IPA and ISBA in May 2022. We are strong supporters of the Pledge’s objective to reduce the negative effects of the traditional pitch process on the mental health of staff when extra workloads and unreasonable deadlines are often imposed on agency and client teams alike.

As a contribution to industry-wide improvements in the pitch process, we are preparing a series of papers to act as guides to agency selection. Our 20-year experience running pitches around the globe has given us plenty of insight into how to get the most from the process and improve the result with a successful client/agency relationship.

The chemistry meeting is a key stage in any agency search process. We’ve written about it from the agency’s point of view, but it is equally important for the marketing team to get the most from this two-way exploration opportunity.

In our experience, a lot of initial effort goes into defining the preferred capabilities of the desired agency, focusing on functionality issues. Agency size, specialist skills, locations, trading history and client list are usually assessed against strategic and creative performance track records – but it’s equally important that the marketing team should spend time exploring the true chemistry between themselves and the candidate agency teams. The relationship may have to last for several years – our experience indicates that agencies do their best work for clients after two years of the relationship and beyond – so how do you make sure there is the best chance of a long-term partnership? There is no law that says you have to be best friends with the agency team, but there has to be room for honest debate and sharing of views. You are going to have to work together at least well enough to generate the results you are after. Get it right and there will be benefits beyond that target.

To help get the best result, here are the key questions marketing teams need to have in mind during the chemistry session (and if possible earlier in the process while the initial search is being carried out). The focus here is on soft issues. That’s the best use of time at the meeting, you can read up ahead about the factual stuff in the written submission. Remember, the chemistry meeting is a two-way process – questions, answers, and debates contributed to by both teams are vital.

1. What can we tell you about us?

Here is an important starting point for the two-way process. The agency team will have come armed with a series of presentation subjects they want to tell you about, and they should have had your requirement brief that they will be keen to respond to. So, it’s great to encourage the dialogue by getting them to say what’s on their minds about you.

You could learn a great deal from what they ask and by seeing how you and your team respond. It will also help to get the most out of the meeting by breaking the ice and by encouraging dialogue rather than a one-way presentation.

2. Why are you here today?

Assuming the answer is because the agency wants to work with you – there should be more to it than the money! What challenges and opportunities do they see for you in the market? What can their experience and passion for advertising contribute to building your business? How do they regard your brand? Your industry sector?

3. What’s the best question you get asked by recruits to the agency?

Here is a nice way to steer the conversation onto staff recruitment and retention – how does the agency describe itself to attract good new talent? And does reality match the sell?

4. Where do you see the agency in five/ten years time?

There are two ways to answer this question – either a response about future proofing and planning for new industry challenges; or a statement of ambition for growth, stability, survival, world domination or some point between the extremes. Both conversations are revealing and worth having.

5. What time did you finish work yesterday?

Want to know whether the agency is busy? Whether they like to get stuff done ahead of the deadline and enjoy an evening at home? Are they ‘always on’ for client calls? Whatever your preference in an agency, here’s a good opening question to finding out something about their working culture.

6. What is your proudest achievement for the agency?

This is a fairly standard question but an important one. You will learn whether the agency is most interested in producing talked-about work, winning awards, growing clients’ businesses, creating big ideas, or executing programmes in different media and markets. There is no ‘right answer,’ – but you will get a feel for whether there is a good cultural match for daily working relationships and your marketing objectives.

7. What made you want to work in advertising?

A great question to find out what the agency team loves about the industry, personal ambitions and agency development plans, strengths and weaknesses in their mix of skills, and how they like to work with their clients.

8. Tell me about how you handle difficult client relationships?

What you’re looking for here is how the agency defines a difficult client, as much as how they handle one. You might be surprised by the answers.

9. What is your honest, personal opinion of my brand?

What this should dig into is how good the agency is at thinking and contributing ‘on the hoof’. It doesn’t matter so much whether you agree with what they say because this will give insight into how the agency can add value beyond the confines of a brief. Are they capable of challenging your thinking? Is that what you want? There can be plenty of insights to be gained from this line of discussion.

10. If you’d only had five minutes with us for this meeting, what would you have said?

End the meeting by cutting to the elevator pitch. It’s an important point and a nice way to invite a summary of everything you have heard over the previous hour or researched before the meeting. But be prepared to have the same question asked back to you.


This isn’t meant to be a definitive list, but it should provide some food for thought to help build a sound chemistry process that produces a good result. Use it alongside a good scoresheet for the more factual questions, and the meeting should be productive and enjoyable.

Preparing for a chemistry meeting is labour intensive, and usually, a task is undertaken on top of the daily workload by the agency and marketing teams alike. So you owe it to everyone in the room to make the most of the occasion.

TrinityP3’s comprehensive Search & Selection process provides extensive market knowledge, a tightly defined process and detailed evaluation and assessment to help you find the right agency supplier.