How to tell if a project will be successful—before it even begins.

Choosing the right agency partner can be daunting. Going into the decision, you likely have a lot on your mind — as you should. The people you hire will play a large role in shaping your brand — the brand you will then have to live with and steer once their work is done.

So, naturally, you need to figure out who can do the best job. But you also need to figure out who you like. After all, you’ll be spending weeks (or months) collaborating on the project. Plus, you need to assess things like timing, cost, size of agency, and what will be needed from your own team. And you have to match your list of needs with their list of deliverables, which all seem to look a little different. One agency’s mission statement is another agency’s brand purpose and so on and so forth. There are a lot of boxes to check.

Here’s the thing you probably aren’t thinking about: What signals are you transmitting?

I’ve been vetting potential clients at a small creative studio for the better part of a decade. Which means I’ve been able to fine-tune my antennae to pick up on all the cues people don’t even realize they’re sending. Not everyone understands that our conversation is just as much an opportunity for them to woo me as for me to woo them. Though when they do, it’s usually a good sign.

At A Hundred Monkeys, there is a very clear split between potential clients who pass muster and those who don’t. It comes down to their primary question—the lens through which they engage with us. Either they ask, “What do we need to do or know to make sure the project is a success?” Or, the equal and opposite, “What happens if I don’t like what you deliver?”

While the former shows a commitment to the process and an understanding that they share responsibility for the project going well, the latter neatly encapsulates a fear-based approach to the relationship. If a potential client seems convinced they are unlikely to be pleased with the results of the work, they’re probably right. Their attitude seems to suggest they have experienced a number of disaster projects. This is the equivalent of the person whose romantic relationships keep ending the same way, who somehow fails to see their role in the dynamic and justifies it by simply saying, “My exes are crazy.”

Sure they are.

So, other than disposition, what makes a project successful? I can’t speak for all agencies, but I can share what I’ve observed at A Hundred Monkeys. Our best projects share a handful of critical components.

The first sign that a project will go well is when a client values our process. We’ve been developing brands for 28 years. You could say we’ve picked up a thing or two along the way. Our process is always evolving to incorporate what we learn from every client engagement. Which means every step of the project is designed intentionally—with our clients’ best interests at heart. When someone wants to throw that out the window, it’s usually a sign of a deeper issue.

If a client is asking us to modify our tried-and-true methodology, chances are their company is not well set up to work with a creative agency. In these situations, we notice there isn’t a designated project advocate within their team. Because we are an outside agency, there is only so far we can take our work without having a partner inside the company who can help get that work across the finish line. I’m talking about things like time with key stakeholders, materials to review, feedback on the work itself, or decisions at critical junctures.

In our most successful projects, in addition to having this advocate, the company we’re partnering with is also well-versed in decision making. In most cases, this means there is only one decision maker, who values and considers the opinions of their team, but ultimately makes the final call. When this isn’t the case, the client may consider the project a success, but from where we’re standing, the creative work has been diluted to the lowest common denominator.

There is a final component to successful projects, an undercurrent that runs through all of the above.

It’s culture.

We’re always looking to partner with companies who approach their business (and their lives) in the same way we do. Which often means they like to do things differently. Sure, these projects are simply more fun to do. But, more importantly, working with these clients allows us to create the kind of work we’re proud to say is ours. When potential clients signal they are genuinely excited to partner together, they value our process, they have the proper internal structure to move the project forward and make decisions, and they have a strong point of view on the world around them, we are ready to sign on the dotted line without any hesitation.