Winning An Agency Review

By Mike Drexler

What does it take to win an agency review? I’ll speak to it from a consultant’s point of view, not necessarily by a client handling it directly in-house. I also believe, as you would expect, that oftentimes clients aren’t fully aware of all the necessary ingredients that should go into a review (but that’s best left unsaid for now).

First, let me say that the agency CEO should always lead the agency review meeting. That doesn’t mean that the CEO should do most presenting and it certainly doesn’t mean that the CEO has the answer to most of the questions. He or She doesn’t. But to be honest, it’s insulting to the client if the agency CEO isn’t participating in full view ready to be actively involved. Another critical element from the start is that the best agency team should be assembled. I mean the best team that is really going to work in some way on the business. Hopefully they are also good presenters (or have rehearsed enough to present well).

When a consultant is engaged to conduct a review the most important step is to really understand the clients business. The special needs and requirements of the client; what they are looking for and, just as important, why they are opening up a review. What went wrong with the previous agency, or what was lacking. No need to jump from the frying pan into the fire.

The consultant will begin with the knowledge of many agencies (and an extensive data base). Most consultants actually do have face to face meetings with many agencies to get to know them, and in cases where that doesn’t occur, telephone calls, site visits and emails describing many facets of the agency are received and conversations exchanged.

The first step in the process is to evaluate agencies based on capabilities, conflicts of interest clients, office locations and unique characteristics. This gets the starting gate to about 10-12 potential agencies. These receive an RFP (or RFI) that is specific to the client’s needs and interests. Fully evaluated and questioned when necessary, the client and the consultant usually pare down to 5-6 finalists. Then it gets really interesting.

The finalist agencies are then briefed about the clients business and all aspects of the review. Sometimes the client is involved with the consultant directly in the agency briefings; sometimes it’s left only to the consultant to do the job. Questions are encouraged and explanations offered that are not confidential. Next stop agency presentations.

The agency presentation has all the basic stuff i.e. credentials, billings by medium, offices, structure, level of people, experience, systems, process, analytic tools, research resources, etc. etc. But, this presentation is also show business, and what is most important is what makes your agency stand out. What makes it exciting to be part of? What makes it different? How is that characteristic implemented in clients’ business? How does it pay off for a client.? Prove it.

Remember, there are usually both Procurement and the CMO at the table. The procurement people are looking for savings. In many ways that’s primarily how they judge it. They want to know about agency operating efficiency, organization structure, reporting flow, staffing requirements and automation, salaries, overhead and profit. They also want to know if the agency will get them the best media prices. And, how they do this (the consultant should also be able to benchmark this). Price matters. It’s not the only deciding factor (or shouldn’t be) but it does matter. And procurement wants savings.

The CMO, however, is looking to build the business. A demonstration of how an agency will do this (better than the competition) is probably the most critical element in the review. What new insights are presented (“don’t tell me something I already know”), How will the integration of traditional and digital media work together holistically to elevate the use of media with creative? Where is the innovation (show me some big ideas)? How are unique analytical tools applied to produce better media intelligence and business results? All of this is what the CMO is looking for (with savings of course).

When the briefing is given to agencies, it is usually a good idea to also present the agencies with a challenge. Often it is a problem the client is trying to solve or an opportunity that the client can capitalize on. And finally, the presentation will end with a compensation proposal (fee, commission, incentives, etc.) to be negotiated.

But there’s still more to winning a review. The culture of the agency, and how it is received by the client is important. Does it fit? The client has to be comfortable with the agency team. And, what is also very important, is that the agency CEO has to connect with the client CEO/CMO. When there are issues to be addressed (and there will be) it’s CEO to CEO/CMO). 24/7. I might also add that this is not only a business connection. It’s an emotional one as well. And it takes the agency side to make it work.

Oh, I forgot. There’s a score sheet at the very end. Many relevant criteria included. Everybody on the client review team votes (including the consultant). Discussion ensues and a winner is picked. Best wishes.

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