Ten key guidelines on agency search
The objective of the 10-stage search process outlined below is to optimize the quality of agency response and the likelihood of selecting the ideal, long-term partner. The principles apply to the appointment of any type of communication agency.
1. PREPARE ALL THE NECESSARY BACKGROUND INFORMATION
- Prepare an outline that includes a clear indication of the brand or company marketing/communications budget.
- Consider the type of agency required. For example, the size of the agency relative to budget; location and specialisation; potential conflicts of interest, etc and carefully draw up the criteria that will form your checklist against which to judge the initial agency list.
- Identify relevant work that has been performed successfully for other organizations that draw on the same areas of competence that you are looking for.
- Talk to colleagues in other companies about their agency experiences.
- Undertake any necessary research such as consulting agency directories, industry associations and the trade media for additional background information about agencies that might interest you. Employ a consultant if you lack sufficient knowledge of the agency environment.
- Seek credentials information from, and possibly talk with, selected agencies that match the criteria in your outline.
2. PREPARE A WRITTEN BRIEF
- Prepare a concise but comprehensive written brief for the participating agencies.
- The brief should clearly outline your expectations for the presentation. Are you seeking strategic proposals only, creative ideas or a full creative pitch?
- Be clear about the nature of the services that you require and expect to receive.
- Indicate proposed remuneration and the type of mandate that you are looking for. Ensure that the budget is clearly stated from the outset – this is as important as outlining remuneration and will avoid misunderstandings during negotiations.
- Identify and make clear all criteria on which the agencies’ presentations will be judged and specify the amount of time that you will allow for the meeting. If pitches are to take place at your premises, advise the agencies on the presentation facilities available, the size and configuration of the meeting room, etc, and allow the agency team access in advance to set up.
- No more than 6 agencies should be asked for their response to a preliminary ‘due diligence’ questionnaire or ‘request for information’.
- No more than 3 agencies should be asked to prepare extended credentials or ‘think-piece’ presentations for short listing.
3. CONSIDER THE TIME NECESSARY TO RESPOND TO THE BRIEF
- Prepare a schedule for the pitch and evaluation process and stick to it.
- Allow sufficient time for agencies to have face-to-face meetings with you to discuss the brief, ask questions, and write a report. Don’t underestimate the value of informal meetings with the individual agencies involved in the competitive pitch.
- Once you have provided the brief to the agencies, a reasonable amount of time should be allowed for them to develop their ideas before the formal presentation. Bearing in mind that full proposals can take weeks or months to develop, four weeks minimum is suggested for the development of work for a full creative pitch.
4. INVITE UP TO THREE AGENCIES TO PITCH (OR FOUR IF AN INCUMBENT IS INCLUDED)
- Decide on a pitch list of no more than 3 agencies. If the incumbent is invited, the list can go up to 4 agencies in total.
- Don’t invite the incumbent to pitch if you have no intention of re-appointing them. If you haven’t already done so, talk to the incumbent about why you are not including them in the shortlist.
- Don’t be talked into lengthening the list beyond three or four agencies.
- Let the competing agencies know who has been invited to pitch and whether the incumbent is included. If you would like to ensure that the presentation process as well as the names of the competing agencies remain confidential, we advise you to confirm this in writing.
- If there is a requirement for participating agencies to sign non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements, it should be done at this stage.
5. GIVE BACKGROUND MARKET DATA, INTERPRETATION AND CLARIFICATION
- You should be willing to share, on a confidential basis, market and financial information and other relevant data and allow agency personnel access to people in your company with whom they would work if appointed.
- Make sure that you have designated one senior member of your company to respond to questions that the agency might have as well as to ensure that the answers are consistent. Don’t underestimate the amount of time that might be required for someone from your organization to be readily available over a short period of time.
- Allow the same rules of access to information for all agencies pitching.
6. HELP THE SELECTION PROCESS BY DEMONSTRATING YOUR COMMITMENT WITH A FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION
- You should decide whether or not to offer a nominal financial contribution to defray agency costs for the pitch.
- A financial contribution (announced upfront and to all agencies on the shortlist) shows the seriousness of your intent. The objective is to motivate the agencies and ensure a professional process: the contribution is very unlikely to cover all the costs of the personnel involved and associated costs.
7. UNDERSTAND THE ROLES OF ALL THOSE INVOLVED AND SET UP AN OBJECTIVE EVALUATION SYSTEM
- Ensure that all the decision makers have been fully briefed and that they are all present at each stage.
- Advise the agencies of the job titles and roles of the client’s representatives.
- Establish an objective evaluation system for assessing each pitch.
- Ensure that the agency presentation teams include people who will actually work on the business.
8. FINALIZE YOUR BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP BEFORE ANNOUNCING THE NAME OF THE SELECTED AGENCY.
- Be certain that the business side (contracts, remuneration and the management of the relationship) is agreed upon before the agency is announced publicly. The involvement of marketing procurement professionals in the search process should ensure that terms are negotiated at the right stage and all contractual obligations formally signed.
9. DECIDE, THEN INFORM QUICKLY AND FAIRLY
- Decide on the winning agency as soon as possible. Normally the choice should be made no more than one week after all the agency presentations have taken place (except in those special cases where it has been agreed to put competing creative work into research).
- Establish a proper procedure for notifying the successful agency as well as the unsuccessful agencies.
- Ensure that all agencies are aware of the result on the same day.
- Immediately issue a media release to the trade media.
10. KEY GUIDELINES ON IMPLEMENTATION AND RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT
- After the pitch, give the losing agencies the courtesy of a full ‘lost mandate’ meeting.
- The agencies who were not selected must return all confidential material and information provided for the pitch. If requested you should return the presentations made by the agencies that were not selected.
- Honour the contract of the incumbent agency, particularly with regard to the agreed upon notice period and payment of outstanding invoices.
- Ensure that the incumbent agency co-operates fully to ensure a smooth transition to the new agency, making sure that all materials belonging to you are handed back in accordance with the contract.
- Once an appointment is made, ensure that a contract between client and agency is actually negotiated, agreed and signed. Contracts must be adhered to throughout the relationship, up to and including termination.
- Welcome the winning agency with the intent of embarking on a long-lasting and mutually satisfying relationship. Arrange for introductory meetings to create familiarity between personnel and with each company’s business processes.
- Set and agree to realistic objectives for brand or corporate communications, incorporate evaluation metrics to measure effectiveness and report key metrics regularly at the senior executive level.
- Client-agency relationships are valuable and require active management; continual investment in the relationship in a strategic manner, the use of brainstorming, off-site meetings and the infusion of refreshing new ideas and team members.