Agency Selection Briefing Guidance

September 24, 2013


In October 2011, the ANA and 4A’s published the Guidelines for Agency Search to document and publicize best practices for both clients and agencies to consider in the agency search and selection process. Those guidelines can be accessed on the respective ANA and 4A’s websites. As a follow-up to those guidelines, the ANA and 4A’s believe there is an opportunity to further improve the productivity of the agency search/new business process, for both agencies and advertisers, by developing specific best practices guidance around the subject of agency selection briefing throughout the entire agency selection process.


The intention of this document is to provide basic guidance for clients who are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of briefing an agency during the agency selection process, and give clients experienced in agency selection briefings additional best practices to consider.

Executive Summary

The ANA/4A’s task force believes that every phase of a review, or agency search, 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 (e.g., RFI, RFP, credentials) to the later phases (including any strategic and/or speculative work and finals presentations).

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

Initial List/Request for Information (RFI) Phase

Think of the RFI phase as the ability to collect 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-Finalist/Request for Proposal (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 responses.
    • 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 transitional 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 RFP process provides the means to help gain a better understanding of an agency’s skills, credentials, processes, culture, and team, as well as the client’s business opportunities, expectations, values, and requirements.

Finalist Phase

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

  • All finalist briefings should be in-person meetings.
  • The finalist assignment may range from answering a strategic question or 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.

Finalist agency briefings should be as complete and comprehensive as the assignment requires. If the finalist phase
includes a speculative assignment, the information should include everything necessary for the agencies to complete
the assignment successfully.

Guidance Summary

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

Each phase of the review process creates the opportunity to expand the interaction between client and agency teams. Briefings matter. Best practice agency selection briefings enhance the likelihood of selecting an appropriate and culturally compatible marketing partner.

(Please visit our "Also See" section to the right for the PDF of the White Paper.)