Global Marketing
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Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants

Tips for a successful agency search process

Disruptive business change
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This is a guest post by Stephan Argent – a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3

Whether or not you’re currently contemplating a pitch, chances are it’s something you’ll have to deal with at some point in corporate life.

While it’s true some pitches can be complex and the process can be time consuming or disruptive, they don’t have to be. There are some simple steps you can take to set your pitch process up for success and perhaps even enjoy the process along the way.

Whether or not you’re contemplating an agency search consultant to help, here are some dos and don’ts to help get your pitch process off to a great start and keep things on track while you select the agency that’s right for you:

Unless you clearly define your requirements and what you are looking for up front it is almost impossible to compare like for like between agencies


1.     Come to a strong point of view on why you’re looking for a new agency.

Sounds easy but unless you’ve got some outside help, the real answers can be tough to uncover.  Ask yourself why you’re looking for an agency now?  What does your incumbent agency really feel about you as a client? Do they have insight into how your organization works that would help in searching for a new agency?

2.     Drill down into what you’re looking for and why. 

One of the things I hear most often is “Creative! – They’ve got to be creative”.  Fair enough.  But is your incumbent creative?  And if so what aspects of the relationship aren’t working?  Quality control?  Budget planning? Delivery?  Or is the incumbent not creative because there’s a briefing or other input issue?  Finding out the why’s now will help deliver a stronger solution at the end of the process.

3.     Be prepared to ask and answer some tough questions. 

Parting ways with your incumbent agency can be a bit like a divorce.  Set aside the harsh comments and take a really good look at your own organization, process and teams and ask what you could have done and will do better in future.  Again, this is difficult without outside, objective help from an Agency Search Consultant, but asking tough questions can reveal a lot about your organization, how you work and the kind of agency that’s really suited to your needs.

4.     Be flexible.

Kinda like dating.  You think you’re after something in particular when in reality the qualities you’re most looking for may appear unexpectedly. The search process, if done correctly, should provide a spectrum of agency approaches and capabilities which help frame up what’s really right for your business.

5.     Create a small, dedicated team to the pitch process and ensure they’re empowered. 

It’s very difficult to steer an agency search by committee.  And yes, you may have corporate in there, the marketing group wants key representation, IT want to make sure you’re not hiring the techno-illiterate, finance want to look at the numbers and several other groups have found time to come up with their own opinion.

I implore you to whittle those numbers down and create a focused and empowered team to drive this process on your company’s behalf.

6.     Make sure your (real) team meets their (real) team. 

OK, it’s true – sometimes the agency brings their ‘A’ team to party and the pitch team isn’t always the team that’s going to work on your business.  And if we’re honest here, sometimes the same can be said of clients.  Senior executives are part of the pitch process and those in the trenches sometimes never get to meet the agency until handover day. So at some point in the process make sure you have a live working team meeting.

So much for the do’s – what about the don’ts?

Well, try these on for size – don’t:

1.     Forget to budget. 

The reality is, the pitch process is going to cost you something and it’s obviously good business practice to make sure you’ve accrued enough to see you through the process.  Are you going to compensate agencies for strategic or spec work? How many agencies X how much? Is there travel involved?  Do you want to capture soft costs against time spent?  The other benefit of this exercise is it can help keep everyone focused on keeping the process on track.

2.     Have all the presentations at your office.

Sounds silly but it’s true.  To get a true measure of agency chemistry, where your future team operates and how their agency is physically set-up can be insightful.  Are offices open and set up for collaboration?  Do you get a good sense of teamwork?  Do employees seem happy?

3.     Throw everything you can think of into a project brief.

A project brief should be a window into how your proposed agencies tackle problems, think, work and demonstrate their ability to come up with solutions within a defined period of time.  Expecting agencies to solve a massive strategic challenge in one pitch meeting is unrealistic.

4.     Get distracted by shiny objects.

I’m not a big fan of stunts, short-term one-off technical maybe’s or highly finished creative simply because it distracts from the core question:  Is this agency right for our company for the mid to long-term?  There can be any number of criteria you’re looking to evaluate so make sure those criteria are held front and centre – even in the face of shiny objects.

5.     Make the process inconsistent. 

Once you’ve started your search – you have to be consistent and ensure there’s a level playing field for all participants.  This applies to process, answering questions, evaluation criteria and consistency of participation among your core team – either in or out from start to finish.  Again, this is something an Agency Search Consultant can help you with.

6.     Over think the process.

Yes – switching agencies can be disruptive. It can be time consuming and it can prompt tough questions within your own organization about your own marketing approach.  But in the end, remember the reason you’re in a pitch process is to create a stronger marketing offering and to help create a stronger business for your company.

If you’ve done your homework and hold fast to some of these basic principles during the process you can rest assured you did good.

So do good. And don’t worry.

Have I missed any pitch dos or don’ts? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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Stephan Argent is a former agency planner from England, and has held senior roles in agencies in both Canada and the United States. Most recently he was Vice President of Digital Media at CTV, and is now President of Canada’s leading independent Marketing and Agency Search advisory and consultancy: ListenMore

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