Should Marketers Conduct Their Own Agency Searches?


These are interesting and challenging times for Marketers.  I recently read in the Harvard Business Review that Marketing is Dead.

The article cites that CEOs have lost all patience. In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric. Ouch.

I think that clients’ greatest ally and most powerful resource in insuring their success during the careers are their agency partners and I am always surprised by how little time some marketers take in making sure that they have the right resource supporting their marketing innovation.

I help clients with agency searches.  I don’t do agency reviews every day because clients don’t fire their agencies every day although I am sure that some would want to.  I have read that over 80% of clients do their own agency searches.

I often hear about reviews that are conducted in a very superficial fashion.  Clients talk to their friends and network about some suggested agencies they should contact.  These people have no in-depth understanding of the business problems or challenges. They rarely get a copy of the RFP.  Then the clients go out and visit 3-4 agencies for an hour or 90 minutes.  Then they select the 2 or 3 finalists and have another 90 minute presentation with other team members and often make a consensus committee decision.  The whole process often takes less than a day’s work.  Not the way to pick the architect of your future success.  Would you pick your spouse that way?  You may spend almost as much time with your agency partner as you do you with your life partner during a work week.

What I have seen in the agency reviews I have conducted is that the journey brings clarity to the client’s decision making process.  Sometimes they select a partner in the end that doesn’t match their initial criteria.   If you implement an abbreviated process that journey may not provide that clarity.  Clients miss out on a lot of discovery if they try being their own guides.  That is not the way to discover new paths.

Clients face too many challenges today to have the time or the knowledge to conduct their own reviews.  Reviews take a long time to do right.  I know that firsthand. Many marketing departments are much smaller these days with fewer doing more. There is no way that clients today have the time resources to keep up with the thousands of marketing options that are out there in the U.S. today.  Then there are the demands of keeping up with all the changes in the social media space.

What I have learned during my career is that having the right resource walking at your side helps to insure your success in a very challenging world and often you need somebody with better experience and vision to make sure that you are walking side by side.

You can connect with Hank on Linkedin

Follow his updates on twitter @hankblank


Watch his video on YouTube on Why It’s Time to Change the RFP Process.


2 thoughts on “Should Marketers Conduct Their Own Agency Searches?

  1. Hank, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ll go a step further and state that for domestic reviews, there need not be an RFP. In addition to hiring a qualified team that has experience in a particular space (industry, etc.), what really makes the winning combination is chemistry. Time and again, an agency comes in with SVPs et al. throws logos and ‘agency’ experience up on the PPT, perhaps shares a few campaign ideas and hopes to win… But how did those agencies find their way into that room? A friend’s recommendation, an ad, a new business call? HOW were they vetted? WHO vetted them? Is it an agency on the rise or on the decline? Are the agency employees happy? So many questions to be answered prior to that critical in-person pitch…
    Frankly, the hardest part shouldn’t be winning the pitch, it should be qualifying for the pitch. By the time the week of the pitches is upon the CMO and/or head of comms, the expectations should be set.
    The new partner will be that team that truly syncs with the client and shares the vision and drive of the client.

  2. Hank. Sound insight as always. Having participated in my fair share of RFP’s, I’ve been privy to well-orchestrated pitches and some woefully bad. Some where it really did become a beauty pageant and one’s where the only criteria was “is this agency hip enough for me to brag about to my fellow CMO’s?”

    I would book-end your statements about another area sadly missing discipline, focus and proper attention. That is agency annual reviews. The time where committed partners at agency & client go through a solid review of what’s working and what isn’t. I agree more is needed to add discipline to agency searches, but once you’ve selected an agency you need to monitor, refine, guide that relationship along. That requires even more dedication.

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