Creating a best practice agency search (and avoiding the sketchy stuff…)

When it comes to agency search, we’re often asked to talk about what constitutes best practice in a particular area or why some aspects of best practice are important to a search process.

While many marketers (and agencies) acknowledge and appreciate best practice methodologies, others are more reticent or suggest timing or financial constraints for not wanting to adhere to a defined process – much less a best practice methodology. 

To help distinguish between best practice, “perceived” best practice and just plain bad practice, I’ve categorized various types of practice we’ve come across as an agency search management consultants over the past few years:

Best practice

Wikipedia describes best practice as a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. This is the standard I describe when using best practice in the context of an agency search, evaluation or benchmarking exercise.

Emerging practice

As the marketing, digital and media landscape continues to shift, best practice methodologies have to evolve to meet, understand and adapt to our business.  Media pitches that probe on programmatic buying transparency might be an example of emerging practice today. These approaches are best termed “emerging best practice” because their efficacy is not yet benchmarked.

Company practice

One of the most common comments we get from marketers around best practice is along the lines of “in our organization we usually do X”.  This is what we refer to as “company practice” – which is not “best practice” (even if the company concerned thinks it is). An example of company practice might be something like, “we never pay for strategic work in pitch…” Company best practice needs to be reviewed in the context best practice and evolved accordingly.

Common practice

Another question that comes up when talking about best practice is along the lines of “who else has done it this way…?”  This is “common practice” (or perhaps “most” common practice) but again, not best practice.  Just because it’s popular doesn’t automatically classify it as a best practice.  An example of common practice might be using a rate card to evaluate lowest price, rather than looking at pricing in the context of your scope of work.

Safe practice

Unlike the name might suggest “safe practice” is anything but “safe”.  Safe practice shirks responsibility for doing the right thing and taking the high ground to deploy best practice actions and methodologies because you think safe practice is less cumbersome or risky. 

Bad practice

Unlike safe, common or company practice, “bad practice” involves any deliberate action that negatively impacts other participants or stakeholders. Examples of bad practice could include – favouring one pitch contender and not treating the others equally, or asking agencies to pitch that you know won’t be able to win the process. 

Perhaps the best reference for agency search best practice in Canada is the Association of Canadian Advertisers guidebook on Searching For A Marketing Communications Agency Partner. As its author, we can help ensure you have a best practice framework for your next search process.

So, what’s your definition of best practice?  How can you avoid bad practice? And how can we help?


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

Photo: Laurence Johnson
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