Lessons for marketers and agencies from an agency search consultant

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We’re often asked by both marketers and agencies, what lessons we’ve learned from the scores of searches we’ve helped manage. 

While a search process can seem daunting, it can be made easier, faster and stronger by avoiding some common pitfalls. These can transform a search from a slog into a speedy success story taking weeks – perhaps even months – off the process – all thanks to a little extra prep.

So, what have we learned and observed? And what are the most common pitfalls made by marketers when preparing for and conducting an agency search?

Here are five for marketers.  And five for agencies:

Lessons for marketers

Less is more

The faster you can get to a dialogue with your prospective agency(s) the better. And one of the biggest mistakes marketers and their procurement teams make is stuffing their RFP documents full of too many and superfluous questions. The result is you’re then left with pages of documentation to comb through and presentations that barely have enough time to cover what’s been asked – much less leave enough time for questions or a meaningful dialogue.

Different wish lists

Consider that not everyone on your team is going to have the same wish list. Aligning your team upfront is like setting the search compass together. It helps you and your search consultant define the must-have qualities in your ideal agency. Plus, by talking it out with stakeholders, you’ll uncover hidden gems of insight that might have been missed. It’s a win-win for a smoother, more successful search.

Beware 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 pre-agreed evaluation criteria – should never be allowed to overshadow your search process.  Please.  Beware shiny objects!

Find out how your organization needs to improve

As in all relationships, there are two sides to everything.  If you’re going to the trouble of conducting an agency search, you should (at the very least) do a debrief with you team to look at how your next relationship can – and needs to – 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 on defining some agency evaluation criteria and your final selection.

Define your evaluation criteria

Defining accurate and meaningful evaluation criteria helps define both the type of agency you should be looking for and also the attributes those agencies need to bring to the table.  If your criteria aren’t defined (and agreed) up front, at best you’ll have difficulty getting alignment but at worst the team could choose an agency that’s not right for your business.

If you’d like to know more, call us or ask the Association of Canadian Advertisers for their best practice guide on Searching For A Marketing Communications Agency Partner authored by us

Lessons for agencies

Heads-up, there’s a theme to the lessons we’ve come up with for agencies…

The potential client is too big, too small or just isn’t right for your team

If it doesn’t feel right, say thank you and pass on the opportunity. That’s likely easier said than done when you’re striving for growth in a challenging economy but the taking a client on that isn’t right can potentially do significantly more harm than good.  Consider your teams.  Consider your culture.  Consider your reputation.  And above all – consider your sanity.  If it isn’t a fit – don’t take it on.

The potential client is asking too much

Think of a pitch as a first date.  Whether asking too much, or asking for proposals in an unreasonable amount of time – guess what kind of a client they’re likely to be in the months and years ahead? If it’s going to turn your agency inside-out to deliver, say thank you and pass on the opportunity.  

Warning signs in the ask

Warning signs come in many guises – but some to watch for: Unreasonable timelines. Extended payment terms. A “cattle call” with dozens of agencies in the same pitch. A client that’s cycled through multiple agencies in a short period of time. The list goes on. But if you see warning signs before you start, say thank you and pass on the opportunity.

There’s no chemistry

After meeting the potential new client, there’s no chemistry between the client team and your agency team. Real simple: Say, thank you and pass on the opportunity – because if it’s not working in the pitch – it’s almost certainly not going to work day-to-day.

Your team’s burned out

This is crucially important – particularly when teams are stretched already. If your team’s burned out – give them a break, focus on getting them un-burned out, say thank you and pass on the opportunity – at least for now.

Bottom line for agencies – learn to say no and feel good about saying it when you need to.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent 

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