How not to conduct an agency review (Book Excerpt 1/2)

10 pitfalls marketers should avoid when searching for an agency partner

AgencySearch_2014_cover_ENThe Association of Canadian Advertisers recently released a guidebook Searching for a Marketing Communications Partner (authored by Stephan Argent) which offers marketers insights on how to line up an agency partner following the basic principles of fairness and transparency. This excerpt offers the top 10 pitfalls marketers should avoid.

Making it all about creative. While creative may well be a key driver in your quest for a new agency, it is rarely the root or only cause of pulling the trigger on an agency search. If you and your team are pointing to creative as the sole cause for an agency search, dig deeper and ask what other drivers are really prompting your search. Typically, you do not need to dig far to uncover valuable drivers that you need to factor into your new search.

Failing to align all stakeholders. Aligning stakeholders before you start your search is imperative in helping you and/or your agency search consultant define what attributes are important in your new agency(s). If stakeholders are not aligned upfront, finding the right agency to suit everyone will be a real challenge.

Not empowering a core search team. Every process needs a core team empowered to conduct the search and make decisions. But the keys here are“core”and “empowered.” Choose your core team with care (include key decision-makers) and ensure everyone understands their role in the process.

Not effectively defining evaluation criteria. Having accurate and meaningful evaluation criteria helps define both the type of agency you should be looking for and the attributes they need to bring to the table. If your criteria are not defined (and agreed upon) upfront, at best you will have difficulty getting alignment; at worst, the team could choose an agency that is not right for your business now or down the line.

Getting distracted by shiny objects. “Shiny objects” – whether they come in the guise of theatrics, new technology, clever apps, or indeed anything else that takes away from your predefined evaluation criteria – should never be allowed to overshadow your search process. Beware shiny object syndrome!

Not asking if or how your organization needs to improve. As in all relationships, there are two or more sides to everything. If you are going to the trouble of conducting an agency search, you should (at the very least) debrief with your team how your next relationship could perform better. What processes need to be reviewed? Does your current team structure accurately reflect your needs moving forward? Resolving some of these issues now may help alleviate the pressure in defining some agency evaluation criteria and your final selection.

Underestimating the importance of chemistry. Be clear about what works for your organization and what does not. Choosing an agency that ticks all the boxes but ignores the fundamentals of working style, personality and fit will be doomed. To get it right, pay attention to what is not said just as much as what is said, and make sure you spend time with your agency(s) of choice before making final decisions.

Holding all presentations at your offices. While it is probably more convenient to have agencies come to you, you need to see how the agencies you are reviewing operate. Is the space set up for collaboration? Are teams actively engaged on business or is the office like a morgue? You can’t get at that by reviewing a written RFI or if you hold all the presentations at your offices.

Not telling your incumbent agency. No matter how quiet you try to keep your search, people outside your inner circle are going to find out. Being honest and up front with your incumbent agency is not just courteous, it is good business. Even if the relationship is beyond repair, you need a professional hand over to your new agency(s) and honesty and candor will help dispel rumour and uncertainty for your incumbent(s).

Allowing inconsistency in the process. Best practice dictates your search process is fair to all participating agencies. Running a consistent process from questions and answers, to evaluation criteria, to the team members who attend presentations, are just some ways to ensure a truly level playing field. Throughout, be consistent and be fair.

There are doubtless other pitfalls to avoid, and pitch sins not to commit, but these are perhaps the most common (and the worst!).

Stephan Argent April 06, 2015

Stephan Argent is founder and CEO of The Argedia Group

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