Marketing is complicated enough. Your agency search doesn’t have to be.

Whatever kind of agency you may be searching for, whatever your challenges, whatever stage of the process you may be at, some thoughtful questions can go a long way to creating a faster, more efficient process with fewer unwelcome surprises.

So whether you’ve already started, are about to start or still in the early stages of mulling how to tackle your next agency search, here are some questions that will help:

Why are you (really) doing an agency search?

Have you asked yourself whether you fundamentally understand the reasons behind why you’re conducting an agency search?  Do you really need an agency review, or can your current agency evolve their services to deliver what you need? Have you interviewed stakeholders? Have you gathered valuable insight from your incumbent agency on the state of your current agency relationship?

Before starting any agency search process, you should be very clear as to exactly what what’s working, what’s not, and why your incumbent agency isn’t able to deliver what you’re looking for. If you’re not clear, chances are you need to do more thinking before pulling the trigger on a search.

Are you prepared? 

Agency searches can be costly, time consuming and disruptive – particularly when you consider you have to keep current initiatives moving through your incumbent agency at the same time. 

Have you considered your contractual obligations and the potential implications to your budget?  What corporate procedures do you need to follow and who should be involved in the agency search process?  How do you structure a search team? As the saying goes, if you’re not prepared, prepare for trouble.

What kind of search process is best for you? 

There are many kinds of search process that go beyond the traditional RFI and RFP methodology most advertisers may be familiar with.

We can help you explore different search processes for creative, strategic, digital, media and specialist agency reviews, as well as some alternative approaches that could be more insightful depending on your business and depending on business needs. No search should be ‘cookie-cutter’ and there are a number of alternatives to traditional methodology that may be better for your business.

Do you know which agencies to see?

With so many agencies providing individual or combined services, what’s the best way to identify and narrow down the best agencies to add to your search list?

Even with a good idea of which agencies to see, what’s the optimum number of agencies that should be on a pitch list?  And what if there’s pressure to include agencies that you feel shouldn’t be on the list in the first place?  Work out – or seek help – on how to narrow the parameters and create the right kind of list for your needs.

What about logistics?

Logistics in an agency search can be more complex than you might think. Here are a few points to ponder: How long should you give agencies to prepare? Should you pay for pitch participation?  How much?  Where should agency presentations take place?  And who should come to presentations?

All these questions point to the complexity of any agency search process and advertisers need to be adept at managing these kinds of logistics – or find resources that can help manage the process.

What should you ask?

Preparing for a search, defining agencies to see, and managing the logistics gets you set up for the search process – but what should you be asking to get to know potential agencies?

What are the guidelines and instructions for participation?  What task or challenge will you use to evaluate agencies – is it too much or too little?  How much information should you share with participating agencies?

These kinds of questions should be contemplated and discussed with your search team prior to commencing a search to help define your own parameters and prevent delays during the process when you’ll come face-to-face with questions you may not otherwise be prepared for.

How do you evaluate agencies?

How do ensure your team evaluates agencies consistently and correctly – how do you create a template or scorecard for your team?  Will you use a numerical scorecard or are there deeper, more complex aspects to evaluate that go beyond a numerical evaluation?

Evaluating agencies on the functional aspects of their submissions or presentations can take you so far, but defining what constitutes real value and assessing fit with your organization can be far more complex. See our post on creating the perfect scorecard for more detail.

What about fees?

When it comes to fees, agency rate cards provide only a very narrow window of insight on agency costs – so what other aspects of agency fees should you evaluate and how do you evaluate them?

And when you’ve evaluated fees, how do you determine which kind of remuneration agreement is best?  Should you consider a retainer, variable fees, commission, and / or some kind of value or performance based remuneration?

What should you do before awarding the business?

Awarding the business may not be as straightforward as you might think because like everything else, it requires careful preparation.

How will you notify the winner?  How will you notify your incumbent agency?  How will you notify those agencies that participated in the process but weren’t selected?  And how should you manage internal and external communications to ensure messaging is disseminated correctly?

What are the big mistakes to avoid?

And finally, even if you’re well prepared, you’ve worked out which agencies to see, what to ask and how to manage all aspect of the process, what are the big mistakes to avoid?

From under estimating the importance of chemistry to miscommunication with your incumbent agency – things can (and do) go wrong – so preparation and contingency planning are key.

As the author of the Association of Canadian Advertisers guidebook on  Searching For A Marketing Communications Agency Partner, I was privileged to have the opportunity to spend many hours talking and debating with the ACA team, marketers and agencies, and gathering various viewpoints, identifying new challenges, and wrestling with new issues spurned by today’s complex communications ecosystem.

If any or all of these questions we’ve posed here have you scratching your head and wondering how to approach your own agency search, help is at hand.  Call us or call the Association of Canadian Advertisers for your copy of their guidebook on Searching For A Marketing Communications Agency Partner.

After all, marketing is complicated enough – your agency search doesn’t have to be.


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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