If you’re going to do an agency search – do it right. Here’s how…

Whether or not you’re currently contemplating a pitch, chances are it’s something you’ll have to deal with at some point in corporate life.

While it’s true, some pitches can be complex and the process can be time consuming or disruptive, they don’t have to be. There are some simple steps you can take to set your pitch process up for success and perhaps even enjoy the process along the way.

Whether or not you’re contemplating an agency search consultant to help, here are some dos and don’ts to help get your pitch process off to a great start and keep things on track while you select the agency that’s right for you:

Things to do

Come to a strong point of view on why you’re looking for a new agency

Sounds easy but unless you’ve got some outside help, the real answers can be tough to uncover.  Ask yourself why you’re looking for an agency now. How does your incumbent agency really feel about you as a client? Do they have insight into how your organization works that would help in searching for a new agency?

Drill down into what you’re looking for and why

One of the things we hear most often is “creative! – they’ve got to be creative”.  Fair enough.  But is your incumbent creative?  And if so what aspects of the relationship aren’t working?  Quality control?  Budget planning? Delivery?  Or is the incumbent not creative because there’s a briefing or other input issue?  Finding out the why’s now will help deliver a stronger solution at the end of the process.

Be prepared to ask and answer some tough questions

Parting ways with your incumbent agency can be a bit like a divorce.  Set aside the harsh comments and take a really good look at your own organization, process and teams and ask what you could have done and will do better in future.  Again, this is difficult without outside, objective help from an Agency Search Consultant, but asking tough questions can reveal a lot about your organization, how you work and the kind of agency that’s really suited to your needs.

Be flexible

You think you’re after something in particular when in reality the qualities you’re most looking for may appear unexpectedly. The search process, if done correctly, should provide a spectrum of agency approaches and capabilities which help frame up what’s really right for your business.

Empower a small, dedicated team

It’s very difficult to steer an agency search by committee, so creating a small empowered team to help manage your pitch process will help deliver the best result. And yes, you may have corporate in there, the marketing group wants key representation, IT want to make sure you’re not hiring the techno-illiterate, finance want to look at the numbers and several other groups have found time to come up with their own opinion.

But I implore you to whittle those numbers down and create a focused and empowered team to drive this process on your company’s behalf.

Make sure your (real) team meets their (real) team

OK, it’s true – sometimes the agency brings their ‘A’ team to party and the pitch team isn’t always the team that’s going to work on your business.  And if we’re honest here, sometimes the same can be said of clients.  Senior executives are part of the pitch process and those in the trenches sometimes never get to meet the agency until handover day. So at some point in the process make sure you have a live working team meeting.

And then…

Things to avoid

Forget you need a budget

The reality is, the pitch process is going to cost you something and it’s obviously good business practice to make sure you’ve accrued enough to see you through the process.  Are you going to compensate agencies for strategic or spec work? How many agencies times how much? Is there travel involved?  Do you want to capture soft costs against time spent?  The other benefit of this exercise is it can help keep everyone focused on keeping the process on track.

Have all the presentations at your office

Sounds silly but it’s true. To get a true measure of agency chemistry, where your future team operates and how their agency is physically set-up can be insightful.  Are offices open and set up for collaboration?  Do you get a good sense of teamwork?  Does everyone seem happy or are they running around like headless chickens – and how would they integrate your business into their day-to-day?

Throw everything you can think of into a project brief

A project brief should a window into how your proposed agencies tackle problems, think, work and demonstrate their ability to come up with solutions within a defined period of time.  Expecting agencies to solve a massive strategic challenge in one pitch meeting is unrealistic.

Get distracted by shiny objects

I’ve never been a big fan of stunts, short-term one-off technical maybe’s, or highly finished creative simply because it distracts from the core question:  Is this agency right for our company for the mid to long-term?  There can be any number of criteria you’re looking to evaluate so make sure those criteria are held front and centre – even in the face of shiny objects.

Make the process inconsistent

Once you’ve started your search – you have to be consistent and ensure there’s a level playing field for all participants. This applies to process, answering questions, evaluation criteria and consistency of participation among your core team – either in or out from start to finish.  Again, this is something an Agency Search Consultant can help you with.

Overthink the process

Yes – switching agencies can be disruptive. It can be time consuming and it can prompt tough questions within your own organization about your own marketing approach. But in the end, remember the reason you’re in a pitch process is to create a stronger marketing offering and to help create a stronger business for your company.

If you’ve done your homework and hold fast to some of these basic principles during the process you can rest assured you did good.

So do good. And focus on finding the right agency that’s right for you. 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


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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