Why in the world would you embark on an agency search at a time like this when you’re busy keeping 6 feet distant and washing your hands? We’ve all been holding our breath, waiting for this Corona virus to pass. We’ve been asked to wait, to shelter-in-place to see if we could slow the transmission and contagion of this “silent killer.” And for the majority, we’re all working from home or an empty office.
As they say, these are trying times. Opinions will vary, but we’ve had a chance to witness how our agencies hold up under great duress. We’ve been the receptor of their plans for now and when the silent killer is gone. President Trump postulates the economy will vault back, maybe even better than it was. Under the circumstance, what advice has your agency, be it advertising, digital or public relations offered in the way of suggested strategy and action for that time?
If your agency came forth with definitive suggestions, with actions to stay the course, great! However, if their inaction or failure to lead is the straw that broke the camel’s back (a pre-Corona expression), you may have decided it’s time for a replacement agency.
You’re right, this isn’t the time for extensive travel, and high-touch, kum ba yah gatherings and presentations. But it’s the perfect time to begin identifying your agency candidates. So begin by identifying those in your organization who should play a role in the process. Solicit their thoughts for attributes, characteristics, personalities and then compile that information. Specifically, what category experience should they have? In your vertical or aligned others? What about services, location, size, years in business or memberships? And in case you haven’t encountered it or given it pause, what about conflicting accounts?
Now take your finished list and go looking. Google is too imprecise so don’t be tempted unless you’re prepared to do tons of work. Better to go to those that have already done the heavy lifting. At your command you have “directories” and “database services.” With directories, think “Yellow Pages.” Data ordered primarily by alpha and location. You navigate as you see fit. Database services utilize on-board search engines that you use to specify, then discover who in their database satisfies your criteria. Some will even handle the challenging task of preparing and sending invitations. A few popular directories include Agency Spotter, Ad Forum and Clutch. Agency Match and our AgencyFinder are databases and somewhat lonely in that regard.
Final point being – now is the perfect time to begin your agency search if that’s what you believe is needed.
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.
#adagencysearch #agencysearch #
It provides suggestions for improving the process — which, the organizations reason, will also improve agency-client relationships.
The study contains both qualitative and quantitative components and quotes a number of media agency CEOs including Wavemaker’s Amanda Richman and Steve Williams of Essence. Respondents represent agencies with combined media billings of more than $55 billion.
A key flaw, the research found, is that clients are often unclear about what the are looking for from their media agency. And they tend to remain vague throughout the pitch process, even when pressed for details.
The study quotes Richman, commenting on the RFI stage of pitches: “Let’s just be more transparent with each other on what the challenges are and what is motivating the pitch so we can put our resources towards the best solution.”
The RFI stage, the study concludes, is an earlier “filtering stage” where clients often require expensive video presentations or details on master service agreements that are better left for a later stage in the process.
Pricing exercises are often perceived as overly complicated and counterproductive. Williams is quoted in the study as saying: “There is a particular lack of consistency, and clarity, around pricing exercises and templates, and how agencies are expected to complete them — so an industry standard would be a constructive move.”
And requests for proposals are often lengthy but full of questions that don’t provide agencies the best opportunity to highlight capabilities and expertise. “Advertisers should focus on the key questions that relate to their particular business challenges,” at the RFP stage, the report advises. “Fewer but more important questions would stop this stage from feeling generic and untailored to the advertiser’s needs.”
Chemistry sessions also frequently suffer from a lack of clarity, per the report. Clients should make a concerted effort at this stage “to ensure that agencies know exactly what is expected of them and be mindful of the resource required where they go beyond the basic ‘meet-and-greet’ session.”
Final presentations are a critical and high-stress part of the pitch process with the highest level of agency resource investment and senior management engagement, per the study. And respondents noted that clients often impose unreasonably tight deadlines at this point in the process. “In general, the one thing that would help make pitches better is more time to do good work,” Williams responded in the qualitative portion of the study.
“Pitches are a big drain on the resources of a media agency, which is often managing multiple reviews simultaneously,” said Tom Denford, North American CEO, ID Comms. “While agencies have gotten better in recent years at prioritizing the pitches they compete for and being more focused with their resources, more discipline on the advertiser side would enable agencies to be more strategic and do better work. A clearer pitch process enables all participating agencies to present their best talent, resources and ideas to the advertiser. This in turn creates more business value for the advertiser.”
Matt Kasindorf, senior vice president management services, 4A’s, added: “Advertisers need to think deeply about how they run their pitches as they look to get the very best out of the agency community…agencies need clarity on the advertiser’s goals and objectives if they are to identify the more appropriate solutions.”
Maybe my load’s not that heavy, but circumstances have brought me to a place and time where it’s appropriate to start looking to hire a new marketing partner. Take a moment to guide me and others faced with the same challenge; comment to identify your favored options. Additional comments welcome.
P.S. – It’s known as agency search and it’s degrees harder than hiring a new CMO.
If you’re like me, you spend a chunk of time looking at agency websites. Many are now both beautiful, informative and compelling. I remember the early text-only centered column display sites. Today the format is clearly hi-fi wide-screen, many with short-form videos playing under superimposed copy and credits. But I’ve also noticed a resurgence of a look – the look of facial hair.
I suspect it’s happening everywhere, but in the agency world not too many years ago, men were close-shaved, wore double-breasted suits with padded shoulders, and sported equally close-cropped heads-of-hair. Facial hair and beards were for old men or homeless. I’m wasn’t surprised when today, as I scrolled the Team page of a 34-person agency, there they were – all ages with full beards, mustaches, goatees, bushy sideburns, and neatly trimmed Ryan Seacrest stubble. I was heading to the bottom when a woman appeared, and you guessed it, she was clean-shaven!
Today’s styles everywhere tend to be casual, so I’m also surprised by the tight, almost pinched look being sold as todays’ suits for men. What’s a gent with some paunch to do? How about cargo pants, a handsome belt and a great UNTUCKit band-collar wrinkle-resistant shirt.
Chemistry or get-along-ness always plays a deciding factor in the selection of a marketing partner, and “looks” is an important ingredient. Is it a factor in your search?
Note: If you happen to be searching for a new marketing partner, you’ll encounter hair at AgencyFinder, but only after you identify some of the best agencies in the world using digital fact-based and consultant-assisted identification. If you’d like, sign in here and start a free search: http://www.agencyfinder.com/advertisers/advertising-agency-search/
Editor’s Note: This era of digital data has fostered the concept of data scraping, or as Joshua comments, “Companies are offering agencies new data all the time but as industry players we are increasingly saying no because the way the data is obtained or used doesn’t sit well with our values and principles.” There’s a big difference between privately searching in a database for prospects that match your search requirements precisely, versus publicly posting your opportunity only to experience a flood of prospects claiming to be a perfect fit. You can’t blame salesperson mentality, but the first process is precise; the second subject to question, audit and generally extra work.
Today’s column is written by Joshua Lowcock, executive vice president and chief digital and innovation officer at UM Worldwide.
The advertising industry often talks about trust – trust between advertisers and their agencies, trust between advertisers and media owners. But very little is publicly said about the trust placed by the public in the advertising industry.
Individuals and the public at large have a right to demand and expect that advertisers, agencies, media and platform owners will treat them with respect. In digital, with the wealth of data available to marketers and the pressure to squeeze every last ounce of efficiency out of media dollars, there are always a myriad of companies offering new data sets.
Companies are offering agencies new data all the time but as industry players we are increasingly saying no because the way the data is obtained or used doesn’t sit well with our values and principles. As a result, these companies (often) quickly disappear. Data collected without clear permission or applied in inappropriate ways has no place in the advertising or media industry.
Data-driven marketing is an important part of our industry. If performed with transparency and respect for the trust the public places in us, it has the power to not only make our industry better but help advertising fund new content, services and tools that contribute value to society and the economy.
But if we betray the trust the public places in our industry and don’t treat the public with respect then we don’t deserve the right to use the public’s data. Zuckerberg acknowledged this in his post on Wednesday in response to the Cambridge Analytica situation: “This was a breach of trust between [Aleksandr] Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.”
Cambridge Analytica betrayed trust on many levels. Facebook was too trusting and was blindsided by how sophisticated the data industry has become. The lesson that can be learned for all of us is that data, like all things that can empower so much good, can be weaponized for bad. That’s why phrases like “computational propaganda” and “weaponized data” are entering the lexicon.
As an industry, we risk letting these negative terms become the brand for data-driven marketing unless we collectively stand up and say that Cambridge Analytica’s behavior is unacceptable and has no place in marketing and advertising. Cambridge Analytica does not represent the advertising industry. Its behavior and companies that behave similarly have no place in this industry.
What the coming weeks and months should remind us all is that, as an industry, we need to always ask the tough questions about data. Where and how is it collected? Has it been obtained appropriately and with permission? Is it compliant with privacy principles? Is it legal? And, just as importantly, is it ethically and morally right to use the data in an intended way?
The line between good and bad use of data is the moral, ethical and value compass of each and every individual working in this industry.
In the end, though, it all comes back to trust. We need to ensure that when the industry talks about trust and transparency, individual consumers are included and considered as important to the trust equation as agencies and advertisers. The more we include consumers in the trust equation, the better it will be for the industry.
From agency search consultants, marketing match-makers, agency directories and aggregators, finding the best resource for selecting an ad agency or marketing firm isn’t always what you would expect.
Once upon a time clients used to find a new agency by asking colleagues for recommendations, asking media reps, or going to their files for a folder labeled “Ad Agencies.” Back then many agencies practiced the fine art of mailings and calling on potential clients. Advertisers relied on national and regional publications such as Adweek and AdAge to identify the hottest agencies.
Agencies used clever direct mail tactics and even took out ads to reach clients and identify their agency as a potential resource for future connections. Then as now, clients with truly large budgets reached out to or were found by the traditional “Agency Selector Consultant” – early-adopters like Dick Roth and MorganAnderson, eventually the likes of SRI, Pile and so on.
Its 2019 and there’s a dizzying array of many different types of vendors who purport to offer easy or more effective ways to guide an advertiser to find a potential new agency or marketing partner.
Before examining those options, let’s see if we can agree on a few fundamental factors when finding and hiring a new agency. Years ago, a client was often heard to suggest “you won’t find a diamond if you’re looking among lumps of coal.”Translation? You may not find a perfect agency partner if you’re looking among a collection of unqualified candidates. So the focus must be on identifying qualified candidates at the outset. The challenge: A client may or may not know the right questions to ask or how to match a potential agency’s capabilities with their most urgent marketing needs.
There’s more. Time and again industry experts write articles and blogs to suggest how to initiate an agency search and conduct a review starting with a mere handful, say 5-8. In a massive sea of agency candidates numbering anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000, without a very precise process, how could a marketer possibly narrow that down to the best 5-8 agencies? Seldom do those articles spend any time to address this salient issue most relevant to the client. I will share some options, but for the moment, let’s examine agency attributes and what ranks on the client’s wish list.
Drawing on our 20+ years providing match-making to advertisers, when given choices, their first is desire is for relevant experience in their own business category. Why? Because then a marketer doesn’t have to spend time bringing an agency up to speed on their nickel. However, some clients actually stipulate against prior experience or the anthesis thereof. Contending they don’t want to inherent ideas used and abused before. Regardless, category experience is a weighted attribute one way or other.
Finally what about services, location, size, case histories, work samples, a dog friendly environment (yes, they have asked for that), client testimonials and then some? Certainly they are important factors but for each client they are weighted individually.
The two qualities that can’t be relegated to statistics are creativity and chemistry. There is no consultant or service that can deny the client the opportunity to make those judgments.
Now let’s consider the various agency search resources with a few examples:
1. Traditional “Agency Search Consultant” – Roth Ryan Hayes, MorganAnderson, SRI, Avi Dan, Pile & Co. We have yet to discover who was first to convince an advertiser to compensate a consultant for finding and assisting in the hiring of marketing firms that would otherwise be spending their time and money to introduce themselves to that advertiser, as had been the age-old B2B custom. So be it, it was done. These consultancies range from a few employees to an unbelievable collection of top-notch talent, most of whom have agency credentials. If you want and need it, they will sit side-by-side in meetings, manage much of the process and agency interaction and take an active role in the entire process. There’s a large list to choose from, but you will pay and generally, you need a multi-million dollar budget to justify their fees.
2. Traditional “Agency Directory” – These directories have content developed over time by the agencies themselves. Redbooks.com is the best example. In their words: “For almost 100 years, Advertising Redbooks has been providing competitive intelligence and prospecting data to media companies, advertising agencies, manufacturers, advertising services and suppliers, libraries and more. Looking for relevant content on companies and the advertising agencies that work with them? Advertising Redbooks is the source for uncovering key advertiser and agency relationships.” Historically this directory of both advertisers and agencies has been a great resource for vendors looking to sell goods and services to listed agencies and advertisers. It’s a comprehensive but pricey subscription service. They’re now part of The List.
3. Traditional “Phone Book” Directories – You would know them as the Yellow Pages. Because they serve specific regions, the initial attribute is location. In earlier print versions, agencies were listed alphabetically. Now, like Google and Bing, he who pays gets best position! It’s a hodgepodge grip and grab process that at best, wastes time and at worst, wastes money. But for a small-to-medium firm wanting a near-by agency, it can be a limited but handy resource. Free but not that efficient.
4. On-Line Search Engines – Google, Bing & others – Self-explanatory. Provide incredible reach and coverage but tend to lack depth of available data. You can spend hours and keywords filling your bucket and you can fall asleep as you negotiate a wide variety of agency websites. You’ll need to create your own matrix to evaluate the relative merits of candidates they present. Free, but data is disparate and the process is significantly time consuming.
5. Digital Search Engine Matchmaker – In 1997 and as a “vertical finder” pioneer, Business Partnering International, Ltd. launched AgencyFinder.com as a reverse-engineered adaptation of MarketPlace’s CD-ROM list creation tool. AgencyFinder blends the digital matching technology of a business dating service with its own, unique blend of one-on-one staff consulting to help hundreds of clients find the right agencies. The first algorithm criteria is always vertical market experience. In its first pass, it limits itself and identifies 35 or fewer “perfect candidates.” Each agency, when selected, is based on the content they contribute and post using some of the 500 offered data fields. Finally staff consultants send invitations (Requests for Dialogue – RFD) to 15 or so. Any and all agency content is contributed by the agency alone and reviewed before approval and activation. This service includes multiple client consultancies, agency invitations and due-diligence interviews. For marketers the service is free.
6. Association Membership Directories – Best example is the 4A’s. Founded in 1917, this trade association represents the lion’s share of the major agencies in America and is the leading authority representing the marketing communications agency business. Utilizing an updated on-site search engine, navigating within their members is straight forward. There’s also a wealth of valuable editorial information here about many aspects of the client/agency relationship and the proper elements of an agency review. Search registration is free.
7. Super Directories, Data Aggregators – AdForum, AgencySpotter, Clutch.co, ranked.com. If you’re into aggressive research and think you need tons, this is your cup of tea. With directories, it is incumbent on you to do it all – find, evaluate and ultimately invite and connect with the agencies you see as candidates. Search management is your responsibility. Note that listing positions (or arrangements) are often a function of agency payments or sponsorships. When these directories first come to market, it’s not unusual to claim content for thousands of agencies, yet in-fact it takes months and even years for agencies to contribute of their own volition. This quick-fix is sometimes accomplished with data scraping, also known as curation, and is the process of importing public information from someone else’s website into your spreadsheet or local file. It’s one of the quickest and unencumbered ways to get data from others on the web without asking for or getting permission, and then channel that data to their website. A rigorous clicking exercise will often revel “empty profiles” with notes to the affect the placeholder hasn’t yet had time to contribute. Generally these are free services.
Testimonials, case histories, third-party assessments – When agencies are allowed to speak with clients, that gives the agency an opportunity to decide and show what content best represents their candidacy. In these areas anything collected and inventoried at a third-party site is generally minimalistic and can quickly grow old and obsolete. Don’t weigh down the front of your process with too much research. Decide what your criteria for selecting an agency is before you start any process. Then evaluate what the agencies show or send for your consideration.
Monetization. Each service has their own business model for how they make money. However, revenue should flow from either agency or client but never both. A “Chinese wall” is not enough to prevent the potential for ethical conflicts, so know who pays what and when before your proceed.
I wish you happy hunting!
Note: Marketing firms call themselves everything under the sun. Truth is the “handle” or “descriptor” is not important, but what IS important is their experience, the services they provide, their “personality” and the likelihood for great chemistry, then location, years in business and this list goes on. However you searched for an advertising agency, digital agency. Marketing partner, PR firm so that’s our topic.
But oh the drama and angst of searching, finding, evaluating and then hiring a new advertising agency, digital agency. Marketing partner, PR firm. Some say it compares to finding and hiring a new C-Suite executive. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Follow these simple suggestions below and you’ll enjoy a pleasant and educational process that you might later tell your associates – was fun!
Step # 1, Rule #1– You will never find a winning partner among a pack of losers. Lesson #1 – The most important and critical stage of your review is the identification of candidates. The first temptation is a Google search. Google’s first assumption, like it is for a fast-food lookup is that you want your agency nearby, so they perform a local search. If that’s your desire, fine. But if you already know who’s in your market, then that’s of little help. Same for Bing and Yahoo. All steer you to websites where navigating and comparing can be a nightmare. Another revelation – there is no set standard for agency websites (thank goodness) but that means you’re in for lots of variety and confusion as you page your way, or scroll your way through dissimilar agency websites. I do promise you will be entertained if you are easily amused.
Let’s find your candidates. Don’t try to identify candidates one at a time, look for a service or search consultant that will help. Try search terms like “Ad Agency Search Service,” “Ad Agency Database,” “Digital Agencies,” “Find PR Firms,” “Agency Search Consultant,” or other variants. If you want assistance a search consultant is your ticket, but they come at a price. One free search consulting service that’s been around for some time is AgencyFinder.com. Check them out. Once you’ve found what you want there or elsewhere, define what it is you need.
What do you need in location or locations, size (employee count), Capitalized Billings (aggregate spend), Years in business? Then more specifically:
· Fields served (vertical market experience)
· Services offered
· Market Specialization
· Membership in Professional Organizations
· Compensation options
· Media experience
· Primary Business (ad agency, digital, etc.)
Step #2 Identify 20 or more agencies (yes 20) and then spend time on their websites. Build a spreadsheet to manage your work. Look for reasons to remove some, not to invite them. Narrow your list to 12-15. Put together your invitational package (an outline of what you seek from the agency) but not an RFP – that’s premature. Prepare an invitation that can be sent by email, fax or overnight carrier. Don’t interview anyone until they have your invitation in-hand and have come forward. Instruct those with interest to send an email to schedule a day and time for a telephone interview. You invite 15; 10 may respond and wish to continue.
Step #3 Hold your due-diligence telephone interviews. The “format” is free-flowing but an opportunity to get to know each other, learn what they do and how they do it, probe to discover to what extent they have experience in and understand your industry. Note what questions they ask you. Determine if they are interested in becoming your agency. If YES, ask them to send you a “Pitch package” – a collection of relevant samples of similar work, then an open-format letter describing how and why they want your business. You or they eliminated 3. You are down to 7.
Step #4 Examine those agency materials and share what they sent with colleagues. Decide who to cut and who to keep. Notify both with pleasant, professional messages – email or phone. Those who are cut will invariably want to know why; try to be honest but gentle. DO NOT fail to notify those you have cut. You cut 2, down to 5.
Step #5 For those still in contention, let them know and if your budget warrants, schedule a visit to those agencies. Plan for an “Agency Tour,” an opportunity to see their facility, meet various employees, see finished and work-in-progress. Look as well for work lying around that isn’t in your wheelhouse, but something you might have admired. Form your opinion and make judicious notes. After visiting 5 semi-finalists your top 2-3 should be evident.
Step #6 Invite the Top 2-3 to come to your headquarters and make final presentations. Give them adequate time to prepare. You identify the assignment and provide the facility. Voila!!! Discover your new agency!
By Peter Levitan
There are 34 advertising agency search consultants listed below. There are surely many more when you add in local and part time consultants.
Savvy search consultants generally act as personal shoppers for larger advertisers trying to locate the perfect agency out of hundreds, even thousands, of specific agency options. It is estimated that about 10% to 15% of all searches use the services of a consultant (I am thinking about dollar volume not total agency searches.) I suspect that the number of consultant led pitches is well over 50% for clients that have large budgets, complicated accounts (think global ala Microsoft’s recent search) and now, highly specialized agency requirements.
SHOULD YOUR AGENCY CONTACT SEARCH CONSULTANTS?
Should your agency contact the search consultants on this list? Yes and no.
Here is the drill. Most of these consultants work for larger clients and they have hundreds of agencies to keep track of. They get lots of incoming from agencies every day — see the interviews below. Based on my 28 years of conversations with search consultants, I can tell you that most of the incoming agency information gets ignored even in a fast paced world where consultants need to keep abreast of the agency universe. Why? Agencies get ignored because most agencies do not really have a realistic reason to get on the consultant’s radar.
Realistic? Consultants are primarily interested in a core set of agency attributes. Obviously, they are looking for agencies that match their current searches. However, in general, any new agency (new to market or new to them) needs to have some distinctive attribute to get a consultant’s attention. That means having a good reason for these busy consultants to pay attention to you. What might that mean?
Here are some examples of what I would get my attention if I were a consultant:
Are you seriously creative (like really creative and can prove it?)
Have you been discovered by the trade press?
Can your agency handle really large, complex accounts?
Do you have international offices?
Did your team just leave a hot agency where you’all did famous work?
Do you have media planning and buying expertise?
Do you have demonstrable digital expertise? You can’t just say we do social media. Did you crack mobile advertising?
Do you have deep experience in an important client category?
Are you known for your strategic chops?
Is your name as ignore-free as Barton F. Graf 9000?
Get the picture?
The bottom line is that you need to think about what agency attributes will be of value to the consultant. Do you have some special sauce that a consultant needs to know about for their business and clients? Before you make any contact, please take the time to understand what search consultants look for.
For the full list, follow this link:
Note: All if not the majority of these consultants are hired by the client and paid by the client. They should never solicit agency payment to participate in a review nor should they charge for being in their database (if they have one). Payment from both sides is “double-dipping” and unethical. In order to afford these consultant fees, the client needs to be dealing with a significant budget and at that, will be looking for agencies with capitalized billings some 3 to 4 times that budget. In most cases, smaller agencies are wasting their time hoping for consideration.