ANA/4A’s Agency Selection Briefing Guidance

The 4A’s and ANA believe there is an opportunity to further improve the agency search process by developing best practice guidance tools around the subject of briefings throughout the agency selection process.

An ANA/4A’s task force has developed Agency Selection Briefing Guidance in order to provide guidance for clients who are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of briefing an agency, and give clients experienced in agency briefings additional best practices to consider.

The ANA/4A’s Agency Selection Briefing Guidance is a supplement to the highly regarded 2011 ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search which provided best practices for both clients and agencies to consider in the agency search and selection process.

4A’s surveys indicate that there is an opportunity to improve adherence with the best practice principles contained in the 2011 ANA/4A’s guidelines by developing detailed industry information and tools related to:

  • The use of RFI’s in the initial, long-list phase of agency reviews.
  • Information on the appropriate use and structure of RFPs.
  • Agency selection briefing guidance for each phase of a review including information on how briefings should be conducted and what information should be included in briefings.

ANA/4A’s Agency Selection Briefing Guidance Highlights
The 4A’s/ANA task force believes that every phase of a review requires a thoughtful briefing that provides specific direction to the agency. The review process should provide escalating information to the agencies as the review progresses from the initial phases of a review (e.g., RFI, credentials) to the later phases of reviews.

Each review phase warrants different types and levels of client briefing information:

Initial List/RFI Phase
Think of the RFI phase as the ability to collect the kind of information that will help you preliminarily qualify a list of agencies for the final selection and eliminate agencies that don’t meet your criteria.

  • The purpose of an RFI is to gather basic information about many agencies.
  • At this point, you’re not asking the agencies to do any customized work beyond introducing themselves.
  • Share enough information about the search and your expectations as a client to allow the agencies to make an informed decision about whether this is a good fit.

Semi-Finalists/RFP Phase
Think of the RFP as an opportunity to learn which agencies you want to include in your list of finalists, after selecting the best-qualified candidates.

  • The RFP process should clarify the client’s expectations, and provide assurances that the agencies can handle the project/assignment.
  • RFPs require a greater investment of time:
    • The client needs to provide more in-depth information to allow the agencies to customize their response.
    • The agency needs to provide more in-depth information about their appropriate experience.
  • The RFP phase is a good time to begin assessing cultural fit.
  • Many reviews include semi-finalist meetings (often referred to as credentials or chemistry meetings), which serve as a transition step to narrow the field. These meetings should include an advanced discussion of the goals and expectations for the sessions, as well as thorough briefings.
  • Semi-finalist meetings are most productive when they take place in the agency’s office so that the client can get a true sense of the agency’s culture.

The Finalist Phase
The “finals” review phase should include the pared-down agency list of the best two or three agencies from the RFP phase. It should provide the opportunity for the client to engage with the agency and allow participants to assess potential partnership.

  • All finalist briefings should be in-person meetings.
  • Finalist assignment may range from: answering a strategic question; addressing a hypothetical challenge to requesting full speculative strategic, creative, and media work.
    • Depending on the client’s requirements, the agencies past work may provide the best example of how they work in a day-to-day collaborative relationship.
    • If the decision is to do a speculative creative process, it will require a greater time commitment from all parties.

Guidance Summary
Agency selection is an important strategic decision, and briefings matter.

  • Every phase of a review requires a brief for the agency.
  • Each review phase warrants different types and levels of client briefing information.
  • As the review progresses marketers should escalate the information that they provide to the agency participants and clarify the learning and capabilities expected.
  • At each review phase, expand the interaction between the client and agency teams.

The ANA/4A’s Agency Selection Briefing Guidance white paper contains valuable information for marketers and agencies. The 4A’s recommends that agency management and business development leaders review the ANA/4A’s briefing white paper.

We recommend that when an agency learns of a client that is embarking on an agency search the agency should send the marketer both the ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search and the Agency Selection Briefing Guidance white paper. Use the communication of these ANA/4A’s guidance recommendations as a catalyst to discuss the clients planned review process, endeavor to inculcate industry best practices within the review and use the discussion as a mechanism to beginning vetting the merits of participating in the review.

Download Agency Selection Briefing Guidance

Download Guidelines for Agency Search