An ANA-4A's executive task force, comprised of seasoned agency and marketer experts, has developed guidance for agency searches. The objective of the ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search is to document and publicize best practices for both clients and agencies to consider in the agency search and selection process.
The ANA/4A’s task force report, ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search, is now available, at no cost, to 4A’s members and friends.
Agency search has become an increasingly important industry dynamic. The growth of emerging digital, mobile and social media has led to a proliferation of new agencies and an expanded client interest in exploring specialist expertise to complement (or replace) existing agencies of record.
- There are ... more reviews.
- More project/deliverable reviews (versus AOR/ongoing relationship reviews).
- More client-led reviews (no consultant)—often with significant procurement involvement.
- Excessive, unfocused RFP demands and cattle calls are on the rise.
Marketers (and their procurement teams) as well as agencies can benefit from formal best practices for conducting the agency search process.
The ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search contains significant recommendations. Key guidance provisions include guidelines for both clients and agencies.
Guidelines for Clients:
- Before deciding to conduct a search, marketers should seriously evaluate whether or not a search is required. Agency searches are expensive, time consuming, highly disruptive, and they can drain company resources. The client should conduct a self-examination of their marketing practices before deciding to conduct a search.
- When starting a review, industry resources are available such as the 4A’s “Agency Search” Information Center and Database.
- Marketers should be transparent with agencies regarding the nature of the search, the desired going-forward relationship, and the scope, timing, and economics of the assignment that is being reviewed. The expectations for the new agency relationship should specify the marketing budget range, agency compensation levels, and speed-to-market requirements.
- The initial RFI list should include no more than 10 to15 agencies (then six to eight for the RFP stage, and up to three for the final round).
- Marketers should provide agencies with adequate access to the client management during the process.
- Clients are advised to visit the agency candidates in their offices at some point in the review process (a good cultural fit is a key component in agency selection and an ideal way to judge culture is through a site visit).
- Not all reviews need to end with a creative shootout, much can be learned about how an agency solves a problem with a different kind of assignment. Consider whether spec creative work is indeed required. If spec work is required, consider paying a stipend to cover some of the agency’s out-of-pocket costs.
- The client should have no ownership rights over creative work or intellectual property developed by the agency unless that has been agreed to in advance, and the client pays a fair and reasonable fee for ownership. Note: This is much more than a stipend.
- If the process includes a spec creative assignment then the marketer should:
- Be specific about the degree of finish and number of executions or approaches
- Provide enough time for development and interaction (typically four weeks)
- Plan to be available for a “tissue” work sessions
- Allow adequate time (e.g., three hours) for agencies to present their work
- Be human, schedule final presentations in a reasonable way to allow time to digest and discuss presentations.
- Offer non-winning agencies a debrief. Provide participants with honest and actionable feedback on their approach, people, final presentation, and to allow them to ask questions. The 4A’s has a post-review feedback tool that highlights important feedback categories and a ranking scale that can easily be adapted to online or telephonic debrief format.
Guidelines for Agencies:
- Carefully review the assignment and the client fit and quickly determine if it is a good opportunity.
- Be courageous enough to discuss compensation implications early, even if the client doesn't bring it up.
- The agency should be clear on which clients they will work with on a daily basis and who the key decision makers are.
- It is inadvisable to surrender the rights to your work as a condition of pursuing the business.
- Agencies should not agree to non-negotiable or unilateral client mandates that the agency considers inequitable or impractical.
- Walk away if the assignment does not feel right.
Getting Started and Planning for Success
The ANA/4A guidance concludes with the recommendation that new relationships should begin with a structured, two-way evaluation feedback process that monitors checkpoints and deliverables, considers scope revisions, flushes out bottlenecks, and seeks to identify future, mutually beneficial effectiveness and efficiency opportunities.
The ANA/4A’s task force report, ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search, contains valuable guidance for marketers and agencies. The 4A’s recommends that agency management and business development leaders carefully review the ANA/4A’s task force guidance and consider adopting agency policies and operating practices that are compatible with the ANA/4A’s agency search guidelines. We also suggest that when an agency learns of a client that is considering conducting an agency search the marketer should be made aware of the joint ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search.