Is This Search Really Necessary?

June 21, 2012

By Bill Duggan

One of the best-read pages in Adweek has got to be ‘Accounts in Reviews’ which is “a weekly listing of the major accounts up for grabs and who’s chasing them.” The current issue lists nine accounts in review including a major retailer, airline, CPG company, sports league (NASCAR!), and a number of financial service companies.

Before even deciding to conduct a search, marketers should seriously evaluate whether or not a search is required.  That perspective is provided in the joint ANA/4A’s white paper “Guidelines for Agency Search.”

Agency searches can be expensive (both for client and agency), 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.

There are many reasons for conducting a search, but 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 and 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?”

Again, agency searches can be expensive, time consuming, highly disruptive, and a drain on company resources. So sometimes the best search is no search at all as current relationships can be optimized and current business practices improved.

comments (1)

Avi Dan

June 24, 2012 9:42pm ET

Great post, Bill. Having been involved in hundreds of agency searches, as both a search consultant and agency BOD member and Managing Partner with top global agencies, I have observed many miscues when it comes to agency search. This is a subject I’ve written about extensively on my blog on FORBES.

Searches are indeed expensive, but not for to the reason most people think. The cost of engaging a professional search consultant is usually only 1% or less of the marketing budget, much lower than one might imagine. In reality, it is actually the disruptions to a company’s operations during the search that can bring the costs up. Sadly, some companies repeat searches too often, and without knowledgeable advice from a consultant. Five of the 9 companies mentioned in the ADWEEK article that Bill cites, called for a repeat search in less than 4 years.

I agree that calling a search, before being sure if one is really needed, can be disruptive. That said, it is my strong belief based on my 30 years’ experience in advertising and as an agency search consultant, that consultant-managed searches produce a more “sticky” agency partner.

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