Doing an agency search? Avoid your own Brexit.

I debated with myself before writing this post because corporate politics on an agency pitch is something people don’t often talk about and rarely like to admit.  But like it or not, politics can – and do – have an effect on some pitch processes.

While politics may be obvious in some cases, it may also be subtle but potentially just as damaging. Some of the hallmarks and pitfalls of an agency search process that is experiencing political influence could be some or all of the following:

Lengthy long-lists

Long-lists that comprise more than twelve agencies are either a sign of uncertainty around the kind of agency being searched for, or the process is being pressured to include additional agencies beyond those recommended.

Last minute inclusion

Agencies that are suddenly added at the eleventh hour at the request of others that weren’t part of your recommended list, is unfair to those who were already on the list and potentially opens the door for further last-minute inclusions, diminishing morale on your team and creating uncertainty among participating agencies.

Incumbent agency uncertainty

Adding the incumbent agency just because they have a good relationship with someone of influence, or because you don’t want to hurt feelings will only exacerbate a difficult situation when it comes time to choose your winning agency and waste time and effort on both sides.

Keeping up appearances

Adding an agency for appearances sake, just to appease a request internally or externally, wastes both the agency’s time and effort, and the time and effort of your search team to evaluate their capabilities. And when it comes to agency search, appearances need to be traded in for results.

In short, agency pitches operating under the weight of political influence or uncertainty can result in too many agencies participating, internal teams focusing on evaluating agencies that aren’t right for your needs or, worst of all, the wrong agencies on the list completely.


OK, so that’s the bad news on agency politics. The good news is there are some things you can do as a marketer to help guard against politics creeping in or indeed swamping your pitch process:

Clearly define requirements

A clearly defined, well thought through requirements list that is signed off by your steering and / or search teams will help focus discussions as to whether agencies do or don’t belong on your search list. Time spent up-front on defining your requirements can pay dividends at times when politics starts playing a role.

Map the grid

Mapping your requirements into a grid that visually demonstrates your primary selection attributes and agency prioritization can be a helpful way of summarizing your argument for agencies on the list and against those that don’t belong.

Use the 10 X Rule

The 10 X rule is simply multiplying your annual spend with your agency by a ten year life-span. So a $10 million spend is a $100 million decision you’ve been challenged to manage for your organization.  That’s a sobering amount of money for most organizations and should create added impetus and a compelling argument to get the right agencies on your list and keep the wrong ones out.

Set a deadline for lists

Setting a firm deadline for your list selection – and then closing it – will help prevent against agencies being added to the list at the last minute. It’s also helpful to share whether your list is open or closed when word gets out that you’re conducting a search.

Be honest

Participating in an agency search process is a lot of work for both marketers and agencies. Any agency that’s been put on your list but doesn’t have an equal shot at winning your business, should be told just that – and why.  Agency’s would far rather know and understand your political landscape up front and then make their own decision about whether they want to continue to participate, rather than go through the motions for political reasons.

Politics are tough but it is possible to strategize your way out and keep would-be political requests at bay.  And you don’t necessarily have to be a diplomat to do it – just call your friendly search management company for 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: muffinn


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