This is all about what small-to-midsize companies with small-to-midsize budgets ($5MM or less) can do to manage their own search for a new or replacement marketing partner. For large companies with large budgets, they’re more likely to engage the often-expensive “elite search consultants” who earn their keep by essentially “coming aboard” for the duration.
No matter how you’re thinking of managing your search (or review), we should all agree you won’t end up with a winner if you’re navigating and searching in nothing but a sea of losers. My apologies to the losers, it’s my expression for agencies that don’t fit the candidate criteria. Which leads to the necessity of defining as best you can what you want and need in that agency. I almost wrote partner, but the days of the AOR or long-term relationship seem to be waning; now “project” is king.
Here’s a food-for-thought checklist: (not necessarily in this order)
· Location (local, driving distance, airplane trip, warm/cool climate, big city, small city)
· Size (employees, billings, offices)
· Vertical market experience (as in, experience in my business or others)
· Services needed (list all you can think of)
· Media experience (particularly Digital or unusual)
· Market specialization (women, B2B, International, ethnic)
· Creative (any favorite types, placed last intentionally)
We just built your agency search “Guide;” your spec sheet for searching at any of the many advertising industry directories and/or databases. Various search terms will take you to them at Google or Bing but “find advertising agencies” will get you going. You’ll discover some sites can accommodate your robust set of attributes, others will pale by comparison. Remember that and make note.
Whoever you use and however you search, choose your candidates for invitation carefully. The more your attributes match their data the better. The old adage “you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole” applies here. If an agency is where you want one, of the size you like and does great cartoony-ads, that’s not enough. While we’re on the topic of creative, let’s talk creative samples. It never ceases to amaze how many clients are willing to take for granted the creatorship of work samples. Many are the time when a talented client identifies the concept, authors the headline, co-produces the commercial or artwork and yet the agency places it proudly among their “work.” Don’t spend valuable time at this stage on more than a cursory stop at creative samples.
· Use credentialed directories and database services
· Confirm each agency candidate has your specified attributes
· Invite agencies proud enough to identify key employees
· Include agencies where location (address) is shown
· Avoid agencies put forward based solely on an upgrade payment
· Don’t allow any agency discussion until they have your invite
· Avoid Our Staff that speaks of Our People but not by name
· Don’t fall in love with posted creative
Collect and compile your invite list. A good spreadsheet makes plenty of sense. A few sites where you searched will extend invitations on your behalf, using their forms as part of their service. Otherwise you will need to spend some quality, possibly frustrating time pulling together your paperwork. Based on years of actual experience, you’ll want to invite 15-20 agencies (really invite BTW, not a “are you interested in working on our account” phone call) to allow for the fall-out. In many cases, you were lucky if you found a name and email contact. If there wasn’t one, telephone or email the agency asking only for the name and new business contact email. Your initial invite should contain as much of your “Guide” as you can. That shows agencies who you are, what you wish to accomplish and why they were singled out for an invite.
Note: Almost without exception, the new business contact at each agency has been schooled in sales techniques. If you begin prematurely, your questions including “Could you handle our account? Do you have experience in …?” may be answered with a sales spin! On the contrary, with them in possession of your search requirements, it is much harder for a “Dale Carnegie” answer to appear.
Your next step? Your due-diligence phone calls.
(To be continued)