Sunday, December 14, 2008

Top 10 Tips For An Agency Review Process

Ask yourself, why you are ultimately going to conduct an agency review. Now ask yourself, why you are really conducting an agency review. Conducting an agency review, no matter how well disciplined the process, is not an exact science. The only part you can guarantee is how much time and money it will cost your firm to fire your existing agency and to search, find and educate your new one. But once you make the decision to find an agency, the points below outline some best practices for choosing the right one:

1. Keep Your Eye On The Prize.

Be certain that the business and marketing outcome is clearly defined and agreed upon by your most senior management before committing to even a general search. Senior sponsorship avoids miscues along the way. Most agencies care about helping to build their client’s business. They commit to the business need at hand – after all, that is fundamentally why you would outsource an important decision. Be as specific and honest as possible about your goals. How much of an increase in revenue are you targeting? What is the percentage of market share that you are looking to secure from competitors? What are the target demographics for your new product launches? Having these specific goals outlined helps your team evaluate the agency’s capability to understand, draw upon experience and present ideas based on sound business issues.

2. Outline And Publish Your Decision Making Process.

Experienced agencies do not want to waste time educating you on how to choose them. All too often the reviewer (that would be you) is learning on the job and that can lead to frustration by the agency. It sends a signal that an inexperienced marketing review may mean an inexperienced client. Sometimes this is the reason why agency review consultants exist, because clients can’t do it themselves, and thus pay for outsourcing the process.

Some simple steps to outlining the process:
Create a calendar of the major milestones of the process, agreed to and secured by you and your upper management. This is a signal that you are serious.

Publish the names and titles of all decision makers and the function they will serve through the entire process. Agencies will most likely be turned off when they hear “I am the decision maker”. Unless you are a one person company, the opinions of others are always a factor when choosing an agency.

3. Identify a narrowly defined scope in the beginning of the process.

If you are really not sure about the tactics, and wish the agency to provide suggestions, your default scope would be “strategic counsel to help us identify the tactics to launch our product”. If you specify the deliverables you want, then agencies will want to know how you came to that conclusion. So give them the research and rationale on your decisions, otherwise expect a host of varying suggestions on how to accomplish the job. This can create some serious apples-to-orange finalists that could generate some dissention amongst your team.

4. Establish Your Selection Criteria Upfront.

Agencies loath when a prospect can’t articulate the top five pre-agreed-upon requirements of their new agency. Your reputation may be shared within agency circles leaving you a challenging time to invite them in for future assignments. Marketing Matchup allows you to search for basic criteria that all firms should consider upfront like size, location, industry experience, services provided, top executive bios, relevant case studies, demonstration of target audience experience and results. Don’t use fluffy words like “good fit”, “we can work together”, “relationship” and “really creative”. Those are qualitative, non-measurable factors that frankly neither side can address with 100% accuracy.

5. Decide And Rank Your Agency Criteria Upfront.

If you are willing to work with a firm 3,000 miles away because they are absolutely the best fit for needs, then don’t include location on the agency criteria list. Everybody on the review committee must agree to the criteria and rank before you start calling firms. PS – word to the wise: having a small, medium and large agency into the review is so old school. Think business needs and if agencies can deliver the ideas.

6. Do You Really Want A Relationship?

Clients say they want an agency relationship and all too often that sends a signal to an agency that you are willing to commit to a retainer. Are you just looking for a one time project? Telling agencies you want a relationship, when you don’t, is like bad dating. Besides, agencies and clients don’t have a relationship out of the gate. Agencies do the work because you pay them. And because you pay them, it gives you the opportunity to build trust. Sometimes the best relationships are the ones where both parties have to deliver value to each other every day, otherwise there is no commitment for success. That said, culture match is important, and that starts with compatibility between top executives. Having key executives meet and ask the right questions is probably a wise idea.

7. Disclose The Budget.

If you do not have one, don’t do a review. Bad clients lie. Good clients are truthful. Great agencies deliver ideas based on tons of variables; the budget can be one of them. When you start reviewing creative portfolios and you see an incredible web site, ad or brochure and say, “I want to do that too”, you might be surprised to find out that the photo shoot was your entire budget, and you may have to reset your expectations. Do not blame the agency if you can only afford stock photography and your competition comes out with the exact same photo 3 months later. Break out your agency budget between working capital, agency fees, production, etc. This helps you and the agency understand what you are truly paying for. Nothing discourages an agency more then you bundling everything together, including staff FTEs, only to fool them later.

Note: Marketing Matchup offers a simple way for you to answer the most commonly asked questions in a review process. You can find these questions by “Posting a Project”.

8. Is It An RFI Or An RFP?

Determine if you are issuing an RFI (request for information) first, then an RFP (request for a proposal) second. This is an important distinction because it adds a level of complexity, time and cost. If you use a tool like Marketing Matchup or the AAAA, you may find all the information you need for an RFI and then only ask for supplemental information that you may require. Agencies are used to filling out RFIs, but part of that reason is because the client really doesn’t know what they are looking for and put the burden on the vendor. According to Forrester Research, an RFP can cost upwards to $17,000 by each agency for an interactive response. Please only issue an RFP if you intend to award the assignment, otherwise the reputation issue arises in the future.

9. Speculative Work.

Speculative work should be required only in very selective instances. Set aside some budget to pay for the finalists (say two to three agencies) to present your ideas. You don’t have a problem paying your plumber or electrician for a house visit in the hope they will resolve an issue.

Agencies expect the same for providing spec work as part of a review. We would also be advocates of spec work if you are in absolute dire need such as time to market. This is a good way to hedge your bets that at least one idea from one agency will address your business need. But ask yourself, how can you be absolutely sure that a “creative idea” from an agency you never worked with can do what you need it to do?

10. Fee Discussions

After you have disclosed your budget, and before you choose your final firm, please get all the paperwork in order. This would include your MSA (Master Services Agreement), your SOW (Scope Of Work) document, and T&Cs (Legal Terms and Conditions). Have each agency review them, with ample time to negotiate. Choosing an agency only to later tell them that your payment terms are 60 days can be a real downer.

No one really likes to conduct an agency review. But if you are trying to develop best in class partnerships, then conducting a proper and well organized review can make the experience as enjoyable as possible given the circumstances.

Marketing Matchup can help you find the right marketing firm for your needs. You can search by agency size, location, industry experience, marketing services provided and past creative work. If you have a marketing project in mind, sign up for a free client membership and post your project to be automatically matched with the right agencies.

Already working on a marketing project or a campaign? We have compiled a set of marketing tools that can help both clients and agencies plan and execute your next marketing project or campaign.


lstewart said...

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waldito said...

It can save you time and money by finding and qualifying the best marketing and communications vendors for the next project.