Long agency review lists might sound like a great thing to many marketers…

But in reality, they have just the opposite effect:  they harm review processes. My desire when shopping is to want to look at as many options as possible before making a decision. I know that in the end, there is a diminishing return on the time invested…and I also find that the more I look at more options, the more I lose track of what I’ve looked at.

Same is true of marketing agencies in an agency search.

In a recent article by Andrew McMains of Adweek, he indicated that the numbers of agencies being asked to participate in searches is on the rise, which is decreasing the likelihood of winning and increasing the cost to the agency.

No fun for anyone.

While one would think that this approach would be better for marketers because they get to see more options and feel better about the fact that they are looking at a wider variety of firms and thinking…I argue that it is in fact a lot worse.

I think what it points to is either a poor search consultant too lazy to do the due diligence and/or an indecisive marketing client.

Ever try and take a serious read of an agency RFI or RFP? They can be long and tedious at times…even those that are well written and thoughtful. And given agencies aren’t inherently all that different, reading too many of them can be brain numbing.

agency review

Here’s some advice we give to marketers on the RSW/AgencySearch side of our business:

First thing is to define the Scope of Search properly.

Be exacting in terms of what your current challenges are and what you’re looking for in a new agency.  This will give your search consultant (or whomever is working the search) the right set of criteria to screen firms.

Second thing to do is go beyond the functional when asking questions in an RFI.

Don’t just ask the basics like size and expertise. Start asking them questions about their experience dealing with similar challenges like those you face at your company. Then sit back and see how well they tie their experiences to your situation. The great agencies will work to help you understand very clearly why they are telling you the things they’re telling you in their RFI and will provide examples that tie very neatly to your world. Those that aren’t so great will be great “cutters and pasters”.

And lastly…take your time when you review the RFI or RFPs.

Read them through once without taking notes. On your second pass take some notes, start making some comparisons between agencies. And on your final pass, give them a grade.  We rate agencies on a 1-10 scale and submit our rating and our recommendation to our marketing clients prior to their review. Some like to carry it on their own at first before seeing what we have to offer – which is fine.

So what does this all mean for you, the Agency?

What this means for you is be critical in evaluating whether or not a search makes sense for you. If it seems hurriedly put together or if the RFI seems ridiculously long and nit-picky, may not be the best thing to jump into. Ask the consultant or the marketer “how many?”.  It is your right to know not only how many are involved in a search, but if the incumbent is involved. We don’t like searches with incumbents. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. We just got one of our clients on the RSW/US agency new business side of our business into a search that had already moved into the Q&A phase because they were so impressed with our agency client. While they appeared pretty particular about what to ask and who to talk with, we stepped up on behalf of the client and asked some questions…and got the answers we needed to help us make a good decision about the search.

Mark Sneider
Mark is a 30-year veteran of the consumer packaged goods, advertising, and marketing service industry. Mark started his career at DDB Needham in Chicago prior to earning his MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Business School at Northwestern where he majored in Marketing and Economics. Prior to starting RSW/US in 2005, Mark was General Manager for AcuPOLL, a global research consultancy. Sneider worked in Marketing for S.C. Johnson and KAO Brands. Sneider has been invited to speak at numerous Agency events and network conferences domestically and internationally including the 4A’s, Magnet, NAMA, TAAN, and MCAN. Sneider has been featured in prominent industry publications including Adweek, Media Post, e-Marketer, and Forbes. When not working (which often seems like not often), Mark likes to run miles, go to church, and just chill with a hard copy issue of Fast Company.