Conducting an agency search? Avoid these mistakes (at all costs).

Committing to an agency search process can be a big step.  You’ve decided – for whatever reason – it’s time for a new agency or agencies, and you’ve now got to balance conducting a best practice search process with the need to continue business as usual.

While the process can seem daunting, it can be made easier, faster and stronger by avoiding some common pitfalls.  Taking extra time to prepare can save weeks – even months – down the road, and your process will be that much more sure-footed along the way.

So, how best to prepare?  And what are the most common pitfalls made by marketers when preparing for and conducting an agency search?  Here are ten that I’ve helped clients side-step over the last year:

Thinking it’s only about creative

While creative may well be a key driver in your quest for a new agency, it’s 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 driver are really prompting your search.  Typically you don’t 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 your stakeholders aren’t aligned up-front, finding the right agency to suit everyone will be a real challenge. Taking time to consult with stakeholders will not only help develop that alignment, it’ll also surface valuable insight into what’s important in a new agency.

Not empowering a core search team

Every process needs a core search team that’s empowered to conduct the search and make decisions. But the keys here are “core” and “empowered”.  An overly large team will be cumbersome and find it difficult to come to a consensus, and a team that’s trying to second-guess its executive management won’t be able to effectively or fairly evaluate a pitch process.  So choose your core team with care and ensure everyone understands their role in the process.

Not defining 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


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 pre-agreed evaluation criteria – should never be allowed to overshadow your search process.  Please.  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’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.

Underestimating the importance of chemistry

Be clear about what works in and for your organization and what doesn’t.  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’s 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’s probably more convenient to have agencies come to you, you need to see how the agency(s) you’re reviewing operate.  Is the space set up for collaboration?  Are teams engaged on their business or is the place like a morgue?  You can’t get at that just by reviewing a written RFI or if you hold all presentations at your offices.

Not telling your incumbent agency

No matter how quiet you try and keep your search process, people outside your inner circle are going to find out.  Being honest and upfront with your incumbent agency isn’t just courtesy, it’s good business. Even if the relationship is beyond repair, you need a professional handover to your new agency and honesty and candour will help dispel rumour and uncertainty for your incumbent partners.

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.

These are just ten pitfalls to avoid when preparing for and conducting an agency search.  Of course there are more.  And perhaps the best way to avoid these (and others) is to employ the services of a professional agency search consultant to help you and your team stay on course….

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: Petur
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