Agency Search Process Needs Extreme Makeover

Avi-Dan-AFor marketers considering conducting an agency review, search consultant Avi Dan has some advice -- forget the RFP. And can the so-called “pitch meeting” as well, which Dan contends is a complete waste of time in today’s fast-paced ad marketing environment.

In fact, the whole agency search process needs a makeover, he says.

“The way agency search is practiced now is too slow for a marketing world that runs at the speed of light,” Dan wrote on his blog for Forbes. “And it is too expensive for companies and agencies that need to prevent harmful waste.”

Dan notes that it can take five or six months, or even a year, to complete a review “at the cost of diverted attention from the company’s business.” With a new and streamlined model, Dan asserts, “a well-managed agency search can be concluded in five to six weeks, without hurting the quality of results. In fact, he contends, "a revised process will lead to a more informed pick, and a stable, long-term relationship with the agency.”

The problem with RFPs, Dan submits, is that they are “generic and provide very little useful information. So the first two or three months of the search process, perhaps more, are wasted sorting through redundant responses from the agencies.”

Instead, says Dan, “an independent consultant who has in-depth knowledge of agencies and their capabilities should be able to shortlist the best four or five contenders,” without an RFP.   

Once that shortlist is defined, Dan says, marketers should conduct a series of workshops and avoid the traditional pitch meeting, which usually amounts to little more than a dog-and-pony show. “The risk in these beauty contests is that agencies are much better at them than marketers. Agencies pitch all the time and are very good at “presenting” and showmanship.”

Instead, marketers should conduct substantive workshops with prospective agencies. Such exercises “give the marketer an opportunity to evaluate how well the agencies develop strategy and creative work, how they think, their ability to work fast, and just how passionate the agency team is.”

Unlike a traditional pitch process, says Dan, “this approach mirrors exactly how marketers and agencies work in real life, and depicts a much more unvarnished view of the contending agencies, their strengths and weaknesses.”

One of the most critical things to find out during the workshops is an agency’s facileness with technology. "Hire for all screens. ... Advertising is no longer about just the 30-second spots, although many agencies are still stuck in the old model, says Dan. “Marketing is one of the biggest expenses for most companies, and hiring the right agency is one of the most important decisions a CMO can make."

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3 comments about "Agency Search Process Needs Extreme Makeover".
  1. Jose Villa from Sensis , January 17, 2013 at 12:10 p.m.
    As an agency owner, I generally agree, particularly with the "workshop" component of Mr. Dan's approach. However, the "first cut" by search consultants is a bit self-serving and presumptuous (assuming search consultants are "all knowing" about a rapidly changing agency landscape)
  2. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry , January 17, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.
    The industry's own research shows that a typical agency's closing rate on an RFP is about 5%. Given this, and the amount of effort, resources and time that goes into an RFP, I'm seeing more and more agencies foregoing the process. This makes the available "pool" of agencies willing to participate significantly smaller, which increases the likelihood the marketer is going to miss out on the agencies that could truly make a meaningful diference to their business. The best recipe: identify work you admire, find out who produced it, and initiate a conversation with them to see if there is a good 'fit.' Six months to conduct a review? That's a joke. More ont hat here: http://ow.ly/gU3C8 http://www.quisenblog.com
  3. Hank Blank from Blank and Associates , January 21, 2013 at 9:17 p.m.
    As somebody who has been on the agency side and also conducted agency reviews I think that the process can be vastly improved. I try to have RFP's that are only one or two pages long and focus the agency on addressing problems versus long submission that look like they were written by the legal department. Hank Blank