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Ms. Nancy Hill

Getting the Best From Your Agency

On Oct. 25, I spoke at the ANA’s Agency-Client Forum on the topic of “Getting the Best From Your Agency.” It was an ideal opportunity for me to present the 4A’s perspective on the agency search and selection process to the 150 marketers who attended the meeting.
Marketers—rightly—are demanding that their agencies totally understand their needs; that agencies provide deep data, insights, and analytic know-how; and deliver true, quantifiable ROI for their marketing spending.
Whether it’s providing holistic communications strategies that penetrate the already crowded content options of busy, multitasking consumers, or simply creating beautiful, thought-provoking and effective ads, an agency’s role as a marketing-communications partner has evolved over the past few decades—and continues to transform.
For decades it has been customary practice for marketers that are contemplating an agency search to circulate questionnaires and request capabilities, credentials, financial, and other background information from advertising agencies.
Historically, this information tended to flow only in one direction, with agencies submitting information to marketers, while—all too often—very little, if any, operational and relationship information flowed back from the marketer to prospective agencies.
The truth is, this traditional search process is not optimal for either agencies or marketers. Imagine if a social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn allowed others to see your entire profile, but denied you access to seeing any part of theirs. Not very cool, I’d say… Would you date or marry someone under those circumstances?
So, rather than a one-way exchange of critical information, a better, more mutually beneficial approach to agency search and selection is to establish a dialogue up front that’s geared toward helping marketers and agencies discuss business goals, marketing objectives and service expectations.
The process also should foster a two-way assessment of capabilities, compatibility and economic expectations.
This courtship—and indeed, the agency selection process is just that—benefits all parties immeasurably when the dialogue is honest, robust and fair, from the very beginning.
What the search process should not be is a mechanism for marketers to generate a bank of ideas and materials from agencies participating in the search process. Which again, isn’t very cool.
I believe that the client-agency dialogue process is a critical—and transparent—first step to align business interests between marketers and agencies.
In fact, it’s the 4A’s recommended best practice and a cornerstone of our “Standardized Marketer New Business Questionnaire,” which is available as part of our “New Business Toolkit” in the Agency Search Information Center on our Web site.

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Asking the right questions...

Nancy makes a very significant point here: information flow needs to be a two-way process.

One challenge agencies face is that few executives are ever taught how to ask the right questions - there is both science and art to building enough credility that your prospect will answer your questions, and then to asking the right ones that really get at the key business issues a business faces.

Remember - no one wants to buy advertising (or media or PR etc.). Rather, they have business challenges they need help with. Agencies everywhere need to send their execs back to school to learn how to have those conversations.
Posted by Mr. Stephen Boehler (Friday, January 09, 2009 10:58 AM)

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