How Many Agencies are Submitting?


I think I have a unique perspective on New Business Development as I have been a new business hunter and have conducted agency searches for companies such as Jenny Craig, Raley’s Supermarkets and  Jacuzzi North America.

When I conduct a review many agencies immediately ask me “How Many Agencies Are Submitting?”

When I say it doesn’t matter they don’t believe me.  This is what I have seen from the other side.

The number of agencies on the long list doesn’t really matter because all agencies aren’t created equally.

You see agencies set the table and first impressions count.

If I look at their submission and say “Wow I couldn’t do that.” I know they will go far.  If I look at their submission and think my daughter submitted a better presentation in college I know their presentation will be quickly dismissed.

When one agency sends their RFP response in a customized box or container that is cleverly designed specifically for this client and another agency sends in a standard bound response, it is not difficult to see who has the advantage and increased their odds of being selected to go to the next round.

If one agency submits a superficial assessment of the client’s web presence and another agency a thorough analysis the choice is clear.

If one agency submits a brand video that they think summarizes the essence of the brand and another agency submits no perspectives on the client’s business the choice is clear.

If one creates a dedicated micro site as part of their submission and the other agencies don’t then the choice is clear.

What also surprises me almost in every review is the agencies that I perceive have the most resources often send a response that is so under resourced that it I am almost embarrassed for them. I am so disappointed.  They may have just been going through motions which they perceive has a limited downside.  They are wrong.  They have made a negative impression among a number of marketers and consultant that does not create positive word of mouth in the future.

The amount of effort that an agency takes in preparing their presentation is very easy to see when compared to agencies whose philosophy is let’s just send them something and see what happens.  Nothing will happen with that approach.  It is an old adage but cream does really rise to the top.

I have seen that it really doesn’t matter how many agencies are on the long list or what order you present in.

You see an agency review is a major milestone in the life of a brand and the career experience of the clients involved.  They may never do another one or another one for years.  It is a special occasion.  It is not an everyday process but a special occasion.  If you treat your submission like that you will beat the odds.  If you treat New Business like advertising you will fade away.

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11 thoughts on “How Many Agencies are Submitting?

  1. Hey Hank,
    Great post. I think this is valuable perspective.
    Looking at a review as a special occasion for the client helps, except in the case of serial reviewers fait accompli reviews, if you know what I’m talking about.

    Speaking from personal experience, I think asking how many agencies are submitting is really code for “do I have a chance here?” Because if the experience set isn’t correct, if the client only wants a marquee agency, or the new CMO is marching through the process for appearances so that he can hire the guy he worked with at another company previously, then it’s best to have had some insight into that going in. In some cases, you can completely blow your brains out on delivering the perfectly customized package and package and then get the call that says, “You guys are great. Nothing I would change. If it doesn’t work out with these guys, we’ll definitely give you a call.” That’s why we’ve found that building relationships over a long period of time is really the only effective new business tool you can rely on.

    • hankblank

      Thanks for this Hal. Yes relationships are key. The more people you know in the right places gives you the intelligence that you need to see if the review is just a process for politics or something real. I don’t think that clients would hire a review consultant to just go through the motions but I could be wrong. Thanks again for commenting.

  2. Excellent topic Hank. I think the question we as an agency ask most when deciding whether to submit a response to an RFP is not, “how many agencies” but rather “who are the agencies” submitting. I agree with you 100% – if an RFP comes out and an agency feels it’s ready for this client and is a great fit, then you need to look at it from the client’s perspective and submit your best effort. The biggest decision is whether or not to pursue an RFP. It is a major business risk because so much time and effort go into doing it right. So, like any other business decision, we try to evaluate our chances before moving forward. By doing that, the decision is not should we go all out or just submit something. The decision becomes do we want to go after this client?

  3. Great post once again! Indeed your perspective as a search consultant provides real insight into the quality of thinking going on within ad agencies these days. It’s no surprise that many agency new business people have a tough time assessing the opportunities and responding appropriately. Jim above nailed it with his comment on “who” rather than “how many”.

    Of course I think the whole “pitch for business ” process is flawed from the git go…and I’m no longer sure it’s correct to say that reviews are “special occasions”… they seem to be happening with more frequency.

    I’m delight to share my own process with your readers:

    – if I recieve a blind “otta nowhere” RFP from a prospective client ( or search consultant who put us on the long list) I begin by qualifying the opportunity to see if we are even a good fit. Did we recieve the RFP as a result of our highly specialized positioning? Is the opportunity aligned to our specialized expertise? Are their resources adequate to their challenge? Can they afford us? Yes or no?

    if yes, then I proceed to next step…

    – why is the client putting its business in review? I want to know the answer. You can tell a good deal about what the client is going through by asking a few simple questions, then actually listen to the response. If I get the answers that confirm we are a fit for the opportunity, we’ll respond to the RFP in a manner that best demonstrates “our potential fit”. From there, the client determines if we move further down the process to the short-list.

    – if we make the short list and get an interview/audition, (it’s a phone call usually) I demonstrate how we have solved similar problems for other clients. At this point in the process, we want the client to quickly determine if we are a real candidate. We want to be disqualified early.

    – If we are asked to submit a bona-fide highly qualified proposal, we will have the client agree to pay us for our travel and expenses to introduce the team assigned to the deliver the outcome, diagnose the problem and recommendation on a course of action.. this step alone eliminates so much needless bullshit on both parties. I believe if the client has a little financial skin in the game in the vetting, chances are they are serious about your solution. If they are skin-flints on the expenses, that tells me what kind of client I’ll be hooking up with…

    Here’s what I won’t do… spend time, creative energy and money providing our high value expertise for free in a pitch as a method of proving our worthiness to solve their problem.

    Here’s what’s most important– even if we are disqualified early, the potential client has been educated and informed on our strengths and specialized expertise, they have had an opportunity to experience our vibe and process. When the right opportunity arises in the future, they may call only on us and forget the cumbersome review process all together.

    Say no early and often.

    • Brian Wright

      this is an interesting read and thanks for sharing your process Dawson, we believe chemistry and contacts ultimately win out and undoubtedly, qualifying the pitch early on is critical.

      Our most important qualifying criteria is; has the client put any of the agencies onto the pitch list, excluding the incumbent. If the agency search company compiled the entire pitch list then we would move to the next step to evaluate fit and only if the fit is truly right proceed. When you cannot get the information you simply have to make a judgement call to determine if they are just following a process in other words are we truly in the running.
      Some other criteria:- We will deffinitely not prepare a final presentation if there are more than 5 agencies involved in the final pitch. (Sorry Hank, we believe 3 is fair and if they cannot reduce the list based on credentials then the effort reward relationship is out of kilter. Furthermore it is more likely that they are trawling for ideas and in the end it will most likely be pot luck as they clearly do not know what they are looking for.
      – We are always skeptical when prospective clients are not prepared to pay for a pitch. But if we truly believe the fit is right and the opportunity worth while we pitch.

      Finally if a pitch is worth going for it is worth going all out and undoubtedly Hank’s comments ring true.

  4. Lots of great discussions coming from both sides here.

    Hank, the reason we ask (and you know I’m a big fan of yours) is that often other factors pointed us towards that question. Maybe it was a poorly written RFP, lack of clear direction or budget that was a flag. Maybe we’re afraid the client is trolling for ideas… unfortunately that happens. We’ve had small brands come to us with brief, well-crafted RFP’s and global brands wow us with visuals in their RFP’s, but not much substance.

    Also, another reason could be that we’re simply wondering if the potential client really has the bandwidth to do their due diligence and give the proposals a solid read. Are we one incredible proposal in a stack of 30, 10 of which being very incredible too, or are we one in a stack of seven.

    When it comes to keeping the team late to work on a new business pitch, I like to play the odds 😉

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