The importance of chemistry meetings in the advertising agency selection process

The chemistry between the marketing team and the agency is an important factor in the success of this relationship. Therefore, there needs to be an assessment and acknowledgement of this chemistry in the selection process of a new agency. This is typically known as the chemistry meeting. Here, we explain why this is so important and the elements required to assess this successfully.

I was talking with a colleague in the UK about the “pitch” process, and he mentioned that they do not run chemistry sessions because “they are a waste of time”. I was surprised and curious. I asked him why, and he explained that getting the agency and the marketing team together to see if they liked each other was rather pointless.

More than a business date

But the point is that chemistry meetings are much more than simply the business equivalent of a date.

Of course, there are procurement professionals who, when running an RFP or RFT to select an advertising agency, do not bother with any meetings, preferring to choose an agency based on the tender response. But this fundamentally ignores the fact that, in most cases, you are buying a professional relationship. Therefore it is important to test the teams’ relationship and chemistry.

Therefore the chemistry meeting is an opportunity for the agency and the marketing team to meet and assess the alignment of values, culture and personality. Interestingly, in these situations, you find that most people have made judgements on the chemistry fit within a blink and then spend the rest of the meeting looking for evidence to justify or challenge that instinct.

A meeting of corporate cultures

But these meetings are more than just bringing the two parties together. When we run a chemistry meeting, we see this as an opportunity for the marketing team to get insights into what it would be like working with the agency.

The chemistry meeting occurs after submitting the credentials documents or the RFI. It is usually 45 – 60 minutes in duration for each agency. And it is usually held at the client’s offices.

Due to a lack of time or facing a longer-than-normal consideration list, a few clients have wanted to ‘speed-date’ the agencies with 15-minute meetings. In this situation, the process is a meet and greet with the marketing team making judgements of the agencies based on first impressions and asking a handful of questions of the agencies to confirm those impressions.

While we do not recommend this approach, as it does not allow for a deeper exploration of the agency’s values and culture, it can be effective as a fast way to shorten the consideration list to a shortlist of two or three.

Going beyond the meet and greet

The problem is that the agency will naturally want to give the best presentation of their team and will be putting on their best performance. Therefore we do several things to challenge that performance and potentially let the marketing team see the real agency. This allows the client to see through the performance and obtain insights into the real agency culture and values.

To achieve this:

  1. We are not prescriptive on the agenda or the composition of the agency attendees other than to ask to meet the agency management team and the key personnel they propose for the business.
  2. We have the marketers ask the agencies preprepared challenging questions to see how they respond to the challenge and test the agency’s thinking, strategy and team dynamics.
  3. We assess how the agency has planned the use of the time regarding the content, allocation of time, level of engagement and team participation.

This means that within 45 mins to an hour, the marketing team has gone beyond simply a meet and greet.

Instead, we have tested:

  • How well they have considered and planned for the meeting – it is interesting how many agencies will come to the meeting with no formalised agenda
  • How they use the time to best effect – so many agencies spend all of the time presenting to the marketing team and no time engaging them
  • How well the team perform – agencies will often bring several members, and then only the CEO talks while the rest stand around like props.
  • How they react under pressure – like the time the CMO challenged the premise of a strategy case study that was being presented, and the agency CEO turned on them angrily, saying, “What would  you know!”
  • How well they know their materials – by asking questions straight from the credentials case studies and no one knows the answer, or even worse, do not know the case study.
  • How well the agency is prepared – like the agency whose main reason for wanting to work together was the lack of a client from that category on the agency roster.

I have heard about pitch consultants and procurement professionals who place strict formats and guidelines around these meetings. But we have found when asked to do this; it becomes a barrier to developing any real understanding of each party. While the whole process is contrived, it is imperative to make the process achieve the most effective outcome possible, and the chemistry meeting is an important part of that process.

Find out more about the role of chemistry meetings in successful agency selection processes here. Or contact us to discuss your agency selection process here.

4 thoughts on “The importance of chemistry meetings in the advertising agency selection process

  1. Totally agree. I find that the more you like and know someone, the easier it is to respect and work hard for them.

    I wish more Pitch Doctors & procurement people would read this post1

    1. Thanks Steve. I agree. There is one of my old school competitors who undervalues chemistry and focuses on the capabilities and expertise of the agency. I think it is because people, especially procurement, can be uncomfortably dealing with issues such as chemistry and human relationships. Yet we all say it is a people business so why don't we acknowledge that in the way we establish and manage these relationships?

  2. Great article.

    #2 above states that you "challenge the agencies". In what ways do you challenge the agencies in a chemistry meeting? Is this simply pushing back on what they choose to talk about, or do you have some kind of brainstorming session or other function in which you challenge them?

    1. Hi Jamen, we review the agencies credentials with the client prior and encourage them to look for any areas which are unclear or do not make sense. Then during the chemistry session we challenge the agency on these areas within their documents to see how they think on their feet, react to criticism and how well the team presenting knows their business. Is that clear?

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