Having played a pivotal role in hundreds of ad agency searches over our 20-years, we’ve witnessed surprise and disappointment. And the elephant isn’t always in the room. Whether you’re an agency or a client planning to search for an agency, it’s important to stress that there are no hard and fast rules for running an agency search, nor are there any laws on the books that dictate the “process” or penalties for non-compliance. It’s not unusual for a non C-Suite individual to take the helm, to engage a consultant or search service, or to begin a Google search to do-it-themselves. In all cases they represent to the invited agencies, and truly believe themselves that they are “authorized” to be running the review.
Agencies-in-the-know have learned to ask questions; many questions. Like “What’s your process?” “What other individuals will be involved in the decision-making?” “Do you have an incumbent and will they be asked to participate?” Some clients will hedge answering, so based on experience a wise agency would choose to withdraw. That is, unless the agency is seriously pressed for new business and associated revenue.
So a review process might proceed with telephone interviews, an orderly examination of candidates, often agency site visits that progress to the identification of “finalists.” Finalists make final presentations, the work product of substantial agency time, creativity, expense and lost sleep. Then the process stalls. The original announced decision date comes and goes. The once-dependable review manager isn’t returning calls or emails. Then comes surprise and disappointment – even those led to believe they had the “inside track” and that they were favored, receive their “Dear John” email and little more. Not who was selected and why; not how or who made the decision, not why they weren’t the favorite.
We sometimes manage to discover the Elephant. Might turn out the CEO worked with an agency elsewhere before, and happened to tell them earlier they were running a review. The “ringer agency” pitched the CEO privately and the CEO pulled rank. Sorry! No apologies or explanation. We know of one review manager who resigned in protest.
The Lesson? Everything is fair in love, war and agency search! Be advised.
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