It is constantly amazing the industry media frenzy that is associated with an advertiser reviewing their business. I am sure many marketers wish that their new product launch or their campaign results attracted the same level of media interest that a pitch does. But this is why running a review or agency selection is not something to be entered into quickly.
It is important that before you even contemplate contacting an agency that you agree on some fundamental processes and issues including:
For the purposes of this discussion, lets limit ourselves to the process, but we are happy to discuss all of the issues associated with pitching at any time.
Define your requirements – what are you looking for?
The process you adopt depends on the objective of the review and desired outcome. If, as is often the case with Government Communication Campaigns, the desire is to have a creative strategy and execution to a specific brief, then having a group of short listed agencies respond to the specific brief is a legitimate approach.
But it would be worth considering paying pitch fees to compensate the agencies for their efforts and paying fees if you require the agencies to assign their IP to you whether they are successful of not.
But if, as is more common, you are looking to select and engage a provider who will be engaged over a period of time to work with you to develop innumerable communication solutions to a wide number of briefs, then the ability to respond to a single brief or a number of briefs is not necessarily the best process of selection.
A process of elimination – separate the wheat from the chaff
Of course, there is rarely one criteria on which a service provider is selected, and especially not in an area as complex and diverse as marketing communications. Therefore it seems ridiculous to expect a single selection process such as a traditional tender to effectively sort out the preferred provider from the rest.
It makes more sense to have a series of stages that focuses on evaluating and selecting the preferred providers on specific and discreet criteria. In this way you can cast the net as wide as possible initially and then quickly and efficiently reduce the preferred providers down for more detailed and rigorous evaluation.
At the widest point you would look at agencies that have the reputations and experience in the areas you are looking for and then you would next look at their capabilities in more detail through case studies before evaluating the potential relationship chemistry of each of the agencies with the marketing team. Consider this the John West strategy, in that it is the providers that you reject at each stage that make the ones left the best.
The role of workshops – take the agency for a test drive
While creative pitches are still popular in Europe and the US, increasingly marketers and consultants, aware of their limitations are moving to alternatives. These limitations include the risk of providing confidential information to the agencies, not seeing or knowing who is doing the creative work, concerns over the pitch team not being the people working on your business if the agency is successful and the time and cost of the process.
Instead of using creative to select agencies, they are taking the shortlisted agencies (two or three) for a test drive in a full day strategy planning day workshop.
In this way the marketers can see how the agency thinks, but more importantly identify the valuable thinkers within the team as there is nowhere to hide. See how the agency and the client team work together. Ensure the agency supply the people to the planning day workshop who would be working on their business if successful.
Equally the agency can see how the client thinks, works and communicates and the whole process reinforces the importance of relationship compatibility.
What is the industry best practice?
While there are certainly many mistakes to be avoided, there is not one process considered industry best practice either here or overseas. As stated, the right process depends on the purpose of the review or selection process and the desired outcome.
We have extensive experience managing search and selection projects across all marketing communications including creative and digital agencies, media planning and buying, and marketing services including public relations, direct marketing, event management and the like.
In my experience, while understanding the various methodologies and processes is essential, in most cases we customise the process in some way to suit the needs and circumstances of the client.