ANA / 4A's Guidelines for Agency Search

October 31, 2011

By Bill Duggan

ANA and 4A's recently released a new guidance paper titled, "ANA / 4A's Guidelines for Agency Search." The guidance 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. 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.

Before deciding to conduct a search, marketers should seriously evaluate whether or not a search is required. Agency searches can be expensive, time consuming, highly disruptive, and can drain company resources. Sometimes issues can be addressed with the existing client/agency relationship via a remediation process, a "last chance" warning given to the agency (as the agency may not even be aware of all the issues) or by simply switching the team at the agency.

When a client thinks a new agency is required for performance-related issues, the client should conduct a self-examination, asking questions such as:

  • Is the problem with the agency a problem that we've had before (which might suggest that the client is the one who needs to change)?
  • Were we the best client we could have been?
  • Did we have a clear strategy?
  • Did we provide a clear brief to the agency outlining campaign objectives, deliverables, and expectations?
  • Did we pay the agency fairly for the work so that it could put its best talent on our account?
  • Was the agency given clear and consistent feedback and sufficient time to respond?
  • Was the approval process too onerous?
  • Did we elevate the conversation to a higher level at the agency so that more senior agency leaders could also respond?

Clients must be honest with themselves as well as with their agencies (current agencies and potential new agencies, if it gets to that). Clients should be careful not to rationalize previous agency failures or put the entire fault on the other side. Ask honestly, "Is there something we could have done better/differently?"

Overall, the agency search process shouldn't necessarily be about ultimately "fixing" the problems, as they may not realistically be fixable. It should simply be about putting them on the table-internally and with agencies-to focus on finding an agency that may be able to work within those parameters.

The detailed guidelines are available on both the ANA ( ) and 4A's ( websites.

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