Agency Search – What’s Changed During COVID?

While most marketers have been busy revisiting business plans, modifying marketing activities and coming to grips with the new realities of a COVID world, others have been actively tackling their agency rosters.

And if you’re a marketer who was contemplating an agency search prior to the pandemic but decided to hit the brakes, here’s some good news: It’s not as scary – or as difficult – to undertake an agency search process with rigour and diligence as you may have thought. In fact, it may prove to be easier, less time consuming and more thorough than you imagined.

Some marketers have found their online search process to be:

  • A strength test for strong internal communication within agencies and their own organizations
  • A focus on stronger communication and collaboration than in face-to-face pitches
  • Less time-consuming, with the elimination of client travel and coordination of pitch team members
  • Easier to maintain and manage other projects while the search is moving forward
  • More insightful through deeper chemistry sessions with key individuals

So apart from agency searches being managed online, what’s different?

Everyone’s Focused

Because there is little or no opportunity to get to know each other prior to a pitch getting underway, both marketers and prospective agencies have to be more focused. Marketers have to marshal their requirements and asks clearly and concisely, while agencies have to create compelling cases to win in an online race.

Key takeaway: If you’re not clear about your ask – you’re not ready. Be really clear about what you’re looking for, why you’re looking and what you’d like to see from agencies.

Smaller Groups

Screen real estate is a value commodity at the best of times but during an online presentation it’s gold. Interrupting to ask a question or two can also be difficult as some programs make it harder to switch from presentation to camera mode seamlessly. So streamlining participants – on both sides – is a crucial factor in maximizing screen real estate and focusing the conversation on what’s really important.

Key takeaway: Limit your audience to key team members. You can always organize another session for unanswered questions, or record the session for a broader group later.

Emphasis on Chemistry

When COVID started and searches pivoted online, there was a worry that clients and prospective agencies wouldn’t be able to assess chemistry effectively. While informal discussion has all but evaporated, smaller presentation teams and / or follow-up chemistry sessions with individuals or even smaller groups, has actually helped bring chemistry into focus.

Key takeaway: Allow for a few minutes of ‘chit-chat’ before your online meeting starts – it sets the tone for what’s to come. Call separate meetings with individuals for deeper chemistry when required.

You’re Under A Microscope

During an online pitch, everyone’s under a microscope – or at least on camera. And just because you’re not presenting doesn’t mean people aren’t looking at you. Intently. In a face-to-face meeting it’s easy to look round the room, assess body language and clarify points when something doesn’t look like it’s resonating. Online, people have to click on you to watch your reactions.

Key takeaway: Assume you’re being watched! Best not to eat – that donut will come up full screen. And try to remain focused on what’s being presented.

Presenting Online Is Hard

As if presenting in person wasn’t hard enough, presenting online is different – but no less nerve-wracking. Presenting ‘blind’ without being able to see audience reactions can be unnerving – particularly if you’re trying to pepper in an amusing anecdote or two. This becomes impossible if your audience have switched off their cameras and presenters are left feeling they’re in a room by themselves.

Key takeaway: Technology can be difficult and things invariably go wrong periodically. The best way to stay present in a pitch is to keep your camera on.

These are just a few of the changes I have seen when managing online pitches for clients since COVID began.

For more insights on agency search and pitch management, Association of Canadian Advertiser members can register for the webinar How to Manage an Online Pitch taking place on Tuesday December 15, 2020, when the pitch expert will be in the presenter’s chair himself. Members can also log in to access the recording and slide deck shortly after the presentation has taken place.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc. offering confidential advisory and agency search management to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on his blog Marketing Unscrewed. Follow him on Twitter: @StephanArgent.

Photo: Blogtrepreneur

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