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Toward A Better Agency Review Process

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

It has been relatively quiet on the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) front. The animosity between the two parties regarding transparency seems to have dimmed.

The ANA has found a new (and much-needed) cause in “marketing-driven business growth” — or actually, the lack thereof. The 4A’s is trying to figure out the role of agencies in a world of in-housing, procurement and cost cuts to virtually all services provided by agencies.

In the U.K., meanwhile, the two equivalent industry organizations are called IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the British 4A’s) and the ISBA (Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the British ANA) and they seem to be getting along swimmingly. The U.K. might currently be gaining global Brexit fame for falling apart at the very fabric of what the “United” Kingdom once stood for, but the ISBA and IPA are working together on common issues like research, data and pitching.

On that last front, I have reported before on their “Good Pitch Guide,” which is actually a free and very useful website, even if you say “soccer” instead of the (proper!!) football.

In addition to that work, they have just released an updated, and free for everyone, pitch guide called “Finding an agency, a best-practice guide to agency search and selection that delivers win-win on both sides.”

It is imminently useful, covering issues like “Ten key guidelines for agency search and selection” (like what you need to prepare a review, or how to whittle down a long list to a short list), “Pitch principles” (like openness and transparency and evaluation criteria), Pitch Models (from simple to complex) and, most importantly, a chapter called “Ten key client considerations before undertaking a review.”

That last chapter is where the Pitch Guide starts, and rightly so! It opens with the all-important question of “Is a review the right thing to do?” The British are of course a very polite lot, and so they state that “before embarking on a change of agency, consider whether you can make things work with your current agency.” I call this “repair before you replace” and have written about this critical decision extensively.

Many times, the reasons to start a review are not well-thought-through. Too often have I heard a CMO lament that his current agency or agencies “suck,” not realizing that the real reason for their suckiness is often the client themselves. Late briefings, incomplete briefings, briefings that constantly change, verbal briefings… do I need to go on?

Briefing issues alone account for 50% of poor performance by an agency. Guessing what the client wants is never a productive model. Instead, marketers and agencies need to have clearly aligned and realistic objectives and KPIs to measure them by.

A review is massively disruptive for marketing organization and agencies alike. And a new agency almost always requires a new way of working to go along with it. Once the new agency is on board, don’t expect a magically transformed and new experience. Instead, expect things to go wrong and to go slow. The new agency is doing everything with you for the first time, from a “real” briefing (not a pitch briefing) to invoicing and everything in between.

I much admire the IPA and ISBA efforts and can wholeheartedly recommend reviewing these free resources if you’re an advertiser considering a review, or an agency that is being invited for a pitch.



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