ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search

September 30, 2011

Marketers and their agencies are looking for high-performance relationships based on mutual trust. Steps that can help marketers and agencies reach that productive state have been outlined from time to time. However, there has not been recent comprehensive guidance on agency search that recognizes the rapidly changing agency-advertiser marketplace.

The guidance that follows—developed and endorsed by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s)—outlines steps that can help marketers and agencies go through an effective search and selection process that can help both parties create a better working relationship.

The objective of this document is to provide guidelines for both clients and agencies to consider in the agency search and selection process. This has become an increasingly important topic as the business and marketing landscape becomes more diverse and fragmented, there has been a proliferation of new agencies with the growth of emerging digital and mobile media, and there has been an expanded desire for specialty expertise/new perspectives to complement (or replace) existing agencies of record. Marketers and their procurement teams as well as agencies can benefit from these guidelines for the agency search and selection process.


When beginning a search, 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 ANA and 4A’s recognize that the most common searches are for the following types of agency relationships:

  • Agency of Record (AOR) Search – An AOR usually sets the strategic and communications direction for a brand (i.e., ongoing retainer-based relationships).
  • Roster Agency Search – Could involve a review for a specific assignment or might entail a qualified vendor status review with no specific assignment as part of the roster review. A roster agency is one that has met the criteria to be considered for a client’s brands but may not yet have been awarded a brand assignment.
  • Specialty Agency Search – These are agencies that have a specific expertise (e.g., mobile, event marketing, digital, social, media planning and/or buying, CRM, or collateral). These agencies often supplement an AOR or an existing roster.
  • International Agency Search – This is usually for an AOR to handle a brand globally or in multiple markets around the world. This is usually done to identify a lead office in a core market that will then coordinate efforts with other offices around the world. 2 ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search
  • Ad-hoc/Tactical Agency Searches – Typically smaller to mid-sized agencies used for more routine, turnkey work at a lower cost with a shorter turnaround time. These agencies can complement other agencies on the roster and free up core agencies to do more strategic work.
  • Project Reviews – Client searches for an agency to perform a specific, one-time deliverable.

The ANA and 4A’s recognize that every agency search is different and that different searches may require clients and agencies to adapt these guidelines to their unique situations and circumstances. However, it is our belief that the following guidelines apply to the most common types of searches taking place today, and should be of value to both clients and agencies.

(Please see our "Also See" section to the right for the full PDF of this report.)


"ANA/4A’s Guidelines for Agency Search." ANA and 4A's. 2011.