In my Directions column last month, I focused on how agencies shouldn’t mislead corporate marketers with the old bait-and-switch technique during an RFP process. However, corporate marketers need to be held equally accountable, to conduct a transparent marketing communications agency review.
The Evils of Speculative Work
Start a new business partnership off on the right foot by being fair and honest during your agency search. We discourage our clients from requesting speculative work; instead, we recommend that agencies demonstrate their track record with relevant case studies. This enables you to find out more about how an agency would use a best practice for your organization.
AgencyLink is a member of SCAN International, a global network of marketing agency search and performance consultants. Together, we facilitated a Client Quality Survey of more than 600 agency leaders worldwide in 2009. The good news coming out of this survey is that Canadian marketers rarely request spec work, especially when compared with European and US results.
Speculative creative rarely hits the sweet spot, as agencies bidding on business are not familiar enough (yet) with your marketing or business objectives. Creative case studies are a better yardstick for prospective clients to measure an agency. Demonstrating strategic thinking is another matter: many agencies are willing to invest resources on sizeable accounts, to provide strategic input in the evaluation process, and demonstrate their processes and research capabilities.
No Loose Lips
Don’t share agency rates or ideas with your marketing pals – confidentiality is a two-way street. You demand that marketing agencies protect your corporate reputation or a new product launch, so be sensitive to agency confidentiality. Respect agency credentials and don’t engage in industry gossip.
No ‘I’ in Team
Companies are under tremendous pressure to enhance the perception of a fair and transparent selection process in agency reviews. Most corporate marketers have a long-time friend in a marketing agency, a relative that runs one, or a favourite agency from past work experience. Corporate marketers have lost jobs and damaged their reputation and career by hiring from this inner circle without a systematic approach. It is critical to identify the right selection committee for your next agency. With buy-in from ‘C’-level executives and procurement, you can come to an early consensus, so the process need not become protracted or arduous.
Another quick tip: if you have someone on your staff nay-saying agencies, include them in the selection team so they have ownership of the final decision.
Communications and Culture
Before you start the search, dedicate the time needed to articulate a solid brief, outlining what you need, why you need it, and how you’d like to work with an agency. Be sure to share business goals, the scope of the work, budget, industry, geography, culture, products and services, past experiences with agencies, deadlines, the client’s involvement and any other unique needs. Be consistent in your disclosure of information to ensure that you don’t offer an unfair advantage to any of the agencies.
Take the groan out of the RFP process by developing a limited series of thoughtful questions for your selection committee to evaluate before shortlisting agencies to visit. Visits are time-consuming not only for the agencies involved, but also for your selection committee, which has to review unnecessary responses.
The purpose of the agency visit is to meet your potential account team in their environment. It’s more demanding to travel to various agencies, but will ultimately be more enlightening. To collaborate effectively, the chemistry and culture on display will be key in your decision-making.
A Plethora of Choice
A search process requires commitment, but the time you spend uncovering that gem of an agency from a plethora of choices is time well spent when you consider how large the field is: in Canada there are almost 6,000 marketing agencies, according to Dun & Bradstreet’s Hoover listings.
You need to reduce agency churn by selecting the right agency to invest in for the long-term. To succeed in your search and select the right partner to elevate your business, always remember that it’s a business relationship you’re seeking – not a commodity you’re buying.
Sheila Corriveau is Partner of Agency Link, a consultancy that conducts marketing and communications agency searches, consults on existing agency relationships and delivers workshops to improve client-agency performance.